Garden Q&A: Inkberry instead of cherry laurel? Too late to plant a magnolia?
By Ellen Nibali
Oct 03, 2019 | 7:00 AM
Would inkberry be a good replacement for my cherry laurel that is always covered with white scale insects?
Inkberry is a native evergreen holly and makes a good alternative for problematic cherry laurels, Japanese holly or boxwood. It features small-leaved dark green foliage, glossy black berries, and the ability to grow in a reasonably moist spot from shade to sun (though it prefers sun.)
If you want full foliage down to ground level, look for ‘Nigra’, ‘Compacta’, ‘Densa’ or other varieties bred to retain lower leaves.
Inkberry is a natural for rain gardens, as well as foundation plantings and mass plantings. Height varies by variety and growing conditions. Where it’s very happy, it can spread from root suckers.
My spouse bought a magnolia but it’s getting close to winter and I’m afraid to plant it. Thoughts?
Be more afraid of drought. Fall droughts can be killers when plants go into winter in dry soil — especially evergreens. However, typically, fall is a great time to plant, so go ahead.
To compensate for drought, even before you plant, fill the planting hole with water and let it drain, a couple of times. Be sure to tease out roots from the root ball, so they can quickly move into surrounding soil. Prune root ends to stimulate new roots. Water when you’re halfway through refilling the planting hole with soil, then again when you’re done. Form excess soil into a saucer by building into a 2-inch ridge about a foot away from the trunk. This will hold water close to the plant longer, so the water has time to soak in and not run off. The rim will naturally level off as the plant ages.
For at least 2 years, supplement rainfall from spring through fall when nature does not provide about 1 inch of rain a week. When you water, water deeply. Between waterings, it’s okay to let the top inch of soil dry out. Probe soil to see where moist soil begins.
University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.