Garden Q&A: Leaves haven't dropped yet? Unusual weather usually is to blame

For The Baltimore Sun

Why didn't our Japanese maple drop its leaves? I've noticed this condition from Charlottesville through N.Y. Are they all dead or injured?

When you see a phenomenon this widespread, unusual weather usually triggers it. Last fall, many plants either dropped leaves very late (December) or did not drop them at all as they normally do, including star magnolia and crape myrtle. Temperatures stayed higher than normal late into the season, followed by a cold snap. The trees did not do their gradual hardening off process and leaves stayed attached because abscission tissue had not sufficiently developed. It requires energy for the tree to sever the connection with its leaves, and many chemical reactions must occur in order and on time.The brown leaves should drop on their own at winter's end when new leaves start growing. Unless your tree has other issues, it should grow normally next spring.

Construction workers recently damaged our flower bed of dormant native ginger, Virginia bluebells and ferns — walking through it, placing heavy equipment on it and even driving a loaded dump truck on top of it! How can I help the soil and the plants?

Soil compaction impacts plants. Plants sunk by truck weight will likely need to be dug up. Loosen soil, improve with organic matter and replant. Top soil may be needed to raise the soil level. Throughout, start to lighten the soil with organic matter, shallow cultivation and light organic mulch such as mulched leaves. Earthworms, ants and other soil critters will continue your work, allowing oxygen and water to reach plant roots. Remember to wait until spring soil is "workable" before you dig or cultivate. Working in wet soil worsens compaction. To test that soil is dry enough, make a ball of soil in your hand, then press it. It should crumble easily.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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