What grass blend do you recommend for shade? I live in the woods.
Three of the fine fescues are the most shade-tolerant: creeping red, chewings and hard fescue. Fine fescue does not tolerate a lot of mowing — in very hot or droughty summer periods, stop mowing altogether. It also does not like a lot of fertilizer. Grass cycling (letting grass clippings decompose) and mowing fallen leaves may be all your fine fescue ever needs. Fertilize only if the grass looks weak — not at the same rates for tall fescue. Use the chart provided at http://ter.ps/lawnguide to help. Fine fescues will also not tolerate heavy foot traffic. If you want a turf where dogs and children can play, provide more sunlight by limbing up, thinning or removing trees so you can plant tall fescue. In the densest shade, consider alternatives to turf such as ground-cover plants, mulch or shrub beds. And remember, late August to early fall is the best time to seed lawns.
My nandina should be evergreen, but this winter they turned brown. Are they dead?
Most broad-leafed evergreens, including magnolia, boxwood and cherry laurel, took a hit this winter. The brown, winter-burned foliage will either fall off or soon be hidden by new growth. Dead branches should be pruned off. Before pruning, be sure branches are dead. Either wait to see if the branches put out new growth, or scratch the bark and look for green underneath, which indicates the branch is alive. Nandina is somewhat tender, but it is tough. Even if it dies, it can spring back from the live roots.
University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to its website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.
Plant of the week
Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis
This ground-cover shrub is prized for its impeccable good looks and restraint, as well as its late-winter surprise. When weather is still drab and dank, small white blooms open. They're not showy, but they pack a potent, honeysuckle-like perfume, hence its name. The thick foliage is a glossy dark green and tops out at about a foot tall. Sweet box spreads slowly to about 30 inches wide, making a solid edging or ground cover. It does require some shade. For the quickest spread, plant sweet box in a light, acidic soil with regular moisture, though it will tolerate some dry conditions in summer once it's established. Stolons will continue to spread, and are manageable and usually warmly welcomed.