Plant of the week

Bird's Nest Spruce. This dwarf conifer looks good throughout the year, but proves invaluable in the winter landscape when the short fine-textured needles remain a dark rich green. (Marian Hengemihle Photo, Baltimore Sun / November 7, 2007)

The top of my Douglas fir is dead. What killed it? It's a native tree, so shouldn't it grow well? If I cut off the top will it grow back?

Douglas fir (a Pseudotsuga, not a real fir) is native to the Rocky Mountains and the West Coast, very different environments from Maryland with its high temperatures, humidity and drought. Even Maryland has vastly different climatic regions. When you seek a compatible plant and find "native" on the label, be sure it's native to your region. It's common for Douglas fir to grow well here for years and then succumb to drought and stress. It will not grow back satisfactorily if the top is removed.

I need a "green" fix on these dreary days. Is there a conservatory around here?

You'll feel like you're in the tropics at Baltimore's own Rawlings Conservatory, recently renovated and expanded. Bask in the Mediterranean House, the Palm House, Orchid Room and more. There is even a Desert House full of a Dr. Seuss-worthy cacti. This historic conservatory and botanic garden is the second-oldest municipal glass conservatory in America and recently marked its 125th anniversary. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, and until 7 p.m. June to September. Call 410-396-0008 about guided tours or scheduling an event or visit rawlingsconservatory.org.

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 the website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Bird's Nest Spruce

Picea abies 'Nidiformis'

This dwarf conifer looks good throughout the year, but proves invaluable in the winter landscape when the short fine-textured needles remain a dark rich green. In spring, new growth appears a cheery yellow-green at branch tips. This flat-topped, spreading spruce has a slight depression in the center, reminding one of a bird's nest. Ultimately about 4 feet high by 5 feet wide, bird's nest spruce is useful in a foundation planting, rock garden, border or as a specimen. It likes full sun in moderately moist well-drained soil. This low-maintenance plant requires no pruning and is seldom damaged by deer.— Marian Hengemihle