Q: I realize English ivy is widespread in Maryland, but there are some evergreen vines clinging to trunks that look a bit different than typical ivy leaves. Are they native, or should they too be removed?
A: An evergreen climber I see covering tree trunks in parks which might be confused for English ivy at a distance is wintercreeper (sometimes written winter creeper; Euonymus fortunei). This non-native invasive acts like English ivy in that it’s a groundcover when no support to climb is present, and a clinging vine when trunks or walls are available.
This species also has negative impacts on the trees and our ecosystem and should be removed if growing on your own property. Parks manage invasives as best they can, but with limited resources, we can do our part by not cultivating the species likely to spread into them, even if we don’t live immediately next to park lands. Weed Warrior volunteer programs exist, such as in Montgomery County, if you wish to be trained in invasive plant ID and to help with their removal on public lands. While wintercreeper has been banned for sale by the Maryland Department of Agriculture since 2018 as a Tier 1 invasive plant, established plants in the region can still mature enough to produce fruit (berries) that wildlife then inadvertently spreads into natural areas. Long a popular landscaping groundcover due to those vibrantly green leaves (and the variegated forms for their color), I always recommend removal and replacement with alternatives, preferably a medley of native species instead.
As with English Ivy, it’s safest for the tree to simply sever the climbing wintercreeper stems’ connection with the roots in the ground and let them slough off the trunk on their own as they dry out and disintegrate. Even though they attach via root-like structures, those aren’t functional roots and no moisture or nutrients are absorbed by them. Pull up, smother (deny them light), or spray any running stems covering the ground. As with any tenacious weed, eradicating an established patch of this species may take time and repeated efforts at removal before finally being successful. Be vigilant, because birds could always re-introduce it in a future year. (Invasive plants — the gift that keeps on giving.)
Q: I am interested in trying some bare-root fruit shrubs this year. Should I plant them in pots first, or keep them inside? They probably will come with instructions, but I want to do what’s best for our local growing conditions.
A: Actually, it’s best to plant them directly into the ground outside as soon as the weather allows (that is, any time the ground isn’t frozen or too wet). The gardener may be cold, but the plants should be fine as long as they’re winter-hardy varieties, and they are often grown in similar or even colder climates than ours here in the mid-Atlantic. Bare-root shipping season for fruits and roses is upon us, and the dormant season is a great time to install them with minimal stress for the plant. As the soil temperatures moderate, root establishment will begin, and the plants will probably have a head start on growth compared to those installed in spring.
Bare-root plants are highly perishable, though, since there is little to no material holding moisture around the roots. As soon as you know they’ve shipped, it would be beneficial to dig the holes where you intend to plant them so they’ll be ready to install promptly upon arrival. If needed, you may be able to keep some hydrated for a few days in a bucket of water (only submerge the roots), or you can pot them up with potting mix to tide them over until closer to spring if you need to delay planting. In that case, when transplanting it would be best to bare-root them again (which should be a simple matter of letting that potting mix fall away when you unpot them) so they sit in unamended or minimally-amended soil once planted, which will help avoid issues with drainage differences between different soil types. You can always topdress with compost afterwards and let that work its way into the root zone gradually.
University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Extension” to send questions and photos.