Elisabeth C. Miller Library

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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Berberis, Skimmia, Leucothoe, Fatsia, Euonymus, Elaeagnus, Shade-tolerant plants, Osmanthus, Aucuba, Viburnum, Shrubs, Prunus, Camellia, Buxus

Can you suggest some shade shrubs/low trees that could be used in the bottom quarter of a huge, years-old pile of yardwaste and branches that is now a 20 foot cliff? I have started with some vinca minor in the lower part but could use some ideas of some things to plant that might get 15 feet tall, evergreen, and grow in woods/shade or sun through trees.


The closest list I could find to meet your needs is one of evergreen shrubs that will grow in shade:

Japanese aucuba - Aucuba japonica vars.
common boxwood - Buxus sempervirens
camellia - Camellia sp.
gilt edge silverberry - Elaeagnus x ebbingei 'Gilt Edge'
Euonymus - Euonymus fortunei radicans
Japanese aralia - Fatsia japonica
drooping Leucothoe - Leucothoe fontanesiana
Oregon grape - Mahonia aquifolium
Burmese mahonia - Mahonia lomariifolia
longleaf mahonia - Mahonia nervosa
holly leaf osmanthus - Osmanthus heterophyllus vars.
English laurel - Prunus laurocerasus 'Mount Vernon'
Japanese skimmia - Skimmia japonica
evergreen huckleberry - Vaccinium ovatum
nannyberry - Viburnum lentago

Source: The Pacific Northwest Gardener's Book of Lists, by R. & J. McNeilan, 1997, p. 46-47

Date 2018-09-26
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Euonymus, Osmanthus, Ilex, Hedges

Can you all give me some recommendations for plants that will form a tight hedge? I want a fast growing plant that does not get more than 2-3 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. I do not want boxwood. Evergreen with glossy leaves is preferable; flowers do not matter to me.


I collected some information from websites and a couple of books for you. I am making one other plant suggestion, and it is the last item.

Euonymus japonicus 'Microphyllus'

Ilex crenata 'Northern Beauty' is described on the website of Great Plant Picks

Ilex glabra 'Shamrock'
See Missouri Botanical Garden for information and an image.

Osmanthus delavayi
This can be grown as a dense hedge. It can reach about 8 feet, but takes pruning well. Evergreen and attractive all year. Small, oval, tooth-edged leaves. Fragrant tiny white flowers in spring. Here in Seattle it can take the full sun but partial shade is okay too.

Great Plant Picks is a local organization with information about plants that do particularly well in the Pacific Northwest.

Date 2017-12-08
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Euonymus, Fungal diseases of plants

I am considering using Euonymus 'Green Spire' for a hedge. My experience with Euonymus japonicus is that every year it seems to get mildew and drop leaves. Is this likely to happen with the 'Green Spire' as well? Do you have any suggestions about how to treat the mildew or avoid it?


'Green Spire' is a variety of Euonymus japonicus. This plant can suffer from a fungus, Oidium euonymus japonici, which occurs only on Euonymus japonicus, and is found wherever the host grows. Clemson University Extension says that fallen leaves and heavily affected branches should be disposed of. Plant in a sunny site which is not overcrowded, and do not water from above.

According to University of California, Davis's Integrated Pest Management site, variegated forms of Euonymus are less susceptible to mildew. Preventive measures are the first step, but if your plants already have mildew, this resource lists less toxic fungicides, such as Neem oil, jojoba oil, baking soda spray, potassium bicarbonate, and biological fungicides: "With the exception of the oils, these materials are primarily preventive, although potassium bicarbonate has some eradicant activity. Oils work best as eradicants but also have some protectant activity."

Date 2018-09-12
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Scale insects, Euonymus, Insect pests--Control

Have you heard about a problem with Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) getting a mildew this year? The leaves have turned yellow green with small spots of lighter yellow discoloration.


Powdery mildew is a common and usually not life-threatening problem with Euonymus. Make sure the plant has good air circulation, and be sure to clean up and destroy fallen leaves which are infected. However, the symptoms of this fungal problem would be whitish coating on the leaves, rather than yellowed leaves. This makes me wonder if it is a different problem such as scale (which is actually an insect). Check and see if there are small bumps on the leaves or stems. Scale can cause yellowed leaves. If your plant has a small infestation, you can try scraping the scales off with your fingernail, prune out the most infested parts of the plant, and then apply dormant oil to the trunk and branches before growth starts next spring, or apply superior oil during the growing season. There are also other fungal and bacterial problems that could be causing the spots.

See this fact sheet from Penn State for more on Euonymus scale.

Here is a link to additional information, which comes from University of Illinois Extension. Excerpt:

Burning bush (also called Winged Euonymus): Euonymus alatus

Cold injury - Winter injury may be caused by very low temperatures as well as drought stress. With excessively low temperatures, the moisture in the cells freezes (due to chemical compounds in plants, moisture freezes at various degrees below freezing). Drought stress already has resulted in limited moisture in the plant cells. Dry, freezing winds during the winter reduces the moisture level even farther, often resulting in dead plant tissue. Diseases can help magnify or increase susceptibility to winter kill. Nectria canker kills the sapwood tissue thus reducing or even cutting off moisture to tissue further out on the plant. Winterkill also makes plants more prone to infectious diseases and insect problems.

Dieback/canker - See bridal wreath spirea. In addition Botryosphaeria dothidea will infect and kill for similar reasons.

Winged euonymus scale - Lepidosaphes yanagicola occasionally occurs in the southern half of Illinois on burning bush. It is an armored scale. And will attack several trees as well. This scale can cause premature leaf drop, branch die back and cause the plant to become more prone to winter injury. It is found between the "wings" - the bark ridges. It does not move to the plant's leaves. The scale over winters as an adult and lays its eggs in June. Eggs may be laid for up to a month. Mating occurs before frost.

Euonymus scale - Unaspis euonymi - females are black and males are white. The scale causes the foliage to develop yellowish green spots. Heavy infestation results in early foliage drop and often stems are killed. Eggs survive by over wintering in the female body. The eggs hatch about early June in Northern Illinois. Crawlers emerge and move onto new growth or can be blown by wind to other plants.

Since I cannot diagnose the problem remotely, it makes sense to take plant samples to a Master Gardener Clinic.

Date 2018-06-07
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Berberis, Trachelospermum, Euonymus, Taxus baccata, Screens, Thuja, Nandina domestica, Hydrangea, Ilex, Hedges, Clematis, Buxus, Bamboo

Could you recommend some plants for a privacy screen that are also narrow? These would be planted in front of a fence in our backyard.


Here is some general information on plants for creating a screen.

Trees for Problem Landscape Sites -- Screening from Virginia Cooperative Extension

Good Hedges Make Good Neighbors from the Humane Society

Bet on Hedges by local garden writer Valerie Easton.

Here is a list of narrow plants for a screen from local garden designer Chris Pfeiffer:

Fastigiate shrubs for naturally narrow hedges. Compiled by Chris Pfeiffer. 2005.

Zones 5-6:

American arborvitae 'Rheingold' (Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold') 5'h x 3'w

Barberry 'Helmond Pillar' (Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Helmond Pillar') 6'h x 2'w

Boxwood 'Graham Blandy' (Buxus sempervirens 'Graham Blandy') 8'h x 1-1/2' w

English yew 'Standishii' (Taxus baccata 'Standishii') 4'h x 1-1/2' w

Irish yew (Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata') 20' h x 4' w

Japanese holly Jersey pinnacle (Ilex crenata 'Jersey Pinnacle') 6' h x 4' w

Japanese holly Mariesii (Ilex crenata 'Mariesii') 3' h x 1-1/2' w

Zones 7-9, in addition to the above:

Dwarf yeddo rhaphiolepis (Rhaphiolepis umbellata Gulf GreenTM) 3-4' h x 2' w

Heavenly bamboo 'Gulf Stream' (Nandina domestica 'Gulf Stream') 4' h x 2' w

Japanese euonymus 'Green Spire' (Euonymus japonicus 'Green Spire') 15' h x 6' w

You might also consider installing a trellis to increase the height of the fence, and then growing an evergreen vine such as Clematis armandii, evergreen hydrangea (Hydrangea seemanii), or star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).

This link is also helpful (scroll down to "Evergreen Vines" and look for appropriate height and light requirements).

You could grow bamboo, but I would recommend growing it in a container, or a series of containers, as you do not want the roots to spread. I have seen an effective bamboo screen between two houses growing in a long rectangular lined wooden trough (lined with bamboo barrier). Some species of bamboo are more tolerant of partial shade than others. Look for a clumping, rather than a running, bamboo (like Fargesia) to be on the safe side.

Growing Bamboo in Georgia

Running and Clumping Bamboos

Bamboos for hedges or tall privacy screens

Date 2018-04-11
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Veronicastrum, Thalictrum, Actaea, Filipendula, Baptisia, Eupatorium, Berberis, Euonymus, Digitalis, Taxus baccata, Thuja, Verbascum, Helenium, Anemone, Ilex, Buxus

I am redoing the narrow planting areas (2-3' wide) on either side of our 20' long entry. Garages from next door townhouses butt up against the outer edge on each side, causing morning sun and afternoon shade on one side, and vice versa on the other side. I have picked out some euphorbias, heucheras, and carexes which should do well. I'm wondering if I should have some taller, more dramatic plants to offset these and if you have any suggestions of ones which might work. Also, any bulb ideas would be appreciated.


Have you considered putting up trellises on one or both sides? Then you could grow vines which require little width, but still have the advantage of height. You could also grow taller plants (maybe some grasses like Miscanthus or even a well-restricted--using root barrier--Bamboo) in containers, and keep them shaped to suit the narrow space. Some shrubs and trees are naturally narrow or fastigiate in growth habit.

Here is a list of narrow plants compiled by local garden designer Chris Pfeiffer,c2005. Some will be too wide for your planting area, but you might want to research those that fit the site.

American arborvitae 'Rheingold' (Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold') 5'h x 3' w

Barberry 'Helmond Pillar' (Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Helmond Pillar') 6'h x 2'w

Boxwood 'Graham Blandy' (Buxus sempervirens 'Graham Blandy') 8'h x 1-1/2'w

English yew 'Standishii' (Taxus baccata 'Standishii') 4'h x 1-1/2'w

Irish yew (Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata') 20'h x 4'w

Japanese holly Jersey pinnacle (Ilex crenata 'Jersey Pinnacle') 6'h x 4'w

Japanese holly Mariesii (Ilex crenata 'Mariesii) 3'h x 1-1/2'w

Dwarf yeddo rhaphiolepis (Rhaphiolepis umbellata 'Gulf Green') 3-4'h x 2'w

Heavenly bamboo 'Gulf Stream' (Nandina domestica 'Gulf Stream') 4'h x 2'w

Japanese euonymus 'Green Spire' (Euonymus japonicus 'Green Spire') 15'h x 6'w

There are also a good number of tall perennials you might try, such as (for your afternoon sunny side) Helenium, Verbascum, Baptisia, Eupatorium, and bulbous plants like Allium and Eremurus, and for your shadier morning sun side, Macleaya, Digitalis, Filipendula ulmaria, Anemone hybrida, Actaea (formerly called Cimicifuga), Lilium martagon, Thalictrum, and Veronicastrum.

There are many excellent gardening books you could consult for ideas. Since you have a small, narrow space, I highly recommend local garden writer Marty Wingate's book, Big Ideas for Northwest Small Gardens (Sasquatch Books, 2003). You are welcome to visit the Miller Library, where you can do further research and also borrow books.

Date 2018-03-01
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Aegopodium, Convallaria, Oxalis oregana, Lobularia, Pachysandra, Galium, Lamium galeobdolon, Sheet mulching, Euonymus, Shade-tolerant plants, Polystichum munitum, Native plants--Washington, Fragaria, Soils, Ground cover plants, Geranium

What is a good way to deal with a gravelly area with a lot of shade? Are there good groundcovers that would be low maintenance? Can the plants grow right in the gravel, or do I need to do something to the soil?


If it's pure gravel, you can just make a border (with rocks and/or wood, preferably non-treated) and fill it with 9-12" of soil. (No need to remove the gravel.) You buy soil by the cubic yard, so to figure out how much, multiply the length (feet) x width (feet) x depth (.75 or 1), then divide by 27 to get the number of yards. One yard of soil is 3' x 3' x 3', or 27 cubic feet. My guess is that you need less than a yard, but it settles.

You can save money by buying the soil in bulk. Otherwise, you have to buy it by the bag, and they might come in cubic feet. If there is only some gravel, you may be able to get by with the soil/gravel mix that you have. See how much hardpan there is by digging around a little.

If you have lots of weeds in the gravel, cover the whole area with large sheets of cardboard or multiple layers of newspaper (about 10 sheets), overlapped to prevent light from getting through. Then put down a border and fill the area with soil. Smothering weeds depends upon complete darkness more than anything. Therefore, overlapping biodegradable stuff and deep soil is key.

Once you've done that, you can plant right away. Here are some plant suggestions. I've included links to pictures, but you can always find more on Google images or the Missouri Botanical Garden's PlantFinder.

  1. Lobularia maritima, known as sweet alyssum: You can plant seeds of this and it will come up this year. It's best to mix it with something else, since it dies down in winter (but self-seeds vigorously and will return). The white seeds the fastest (year to year), but it's nice to mix with purple. Both varieties smell good and attract beneficial insects.

  2. Fragaria x ananassa 'Pink Panda': A strawberry-potentilla hybrid that grows fast and spreads easily, is good weed suppresser, and blooms twice a year with pink flowers. This is an excellent groundcover, will probably be evergreen.

  3. Pachysandra: This plant is evergreen, and though it is not as fast growing as some groundcovers, it does spread.

  4. Hardy Geranium spp.: Geranium x oxonianum 'Claridge Druce' is a variety that spreads well. Another good variety is Geranium endressii 'Wargrave's Pink'; in particular, it seeds itself well. Geranium macrorrhizum has many cultivars, a pleasant scent, and self-seeds readily.

  5. Galium odoratum: Also called sweet woodruff, this plant is prettily scented, probably evergreen here, and spreads fairly rapidly. It produces white flowers in early spring, and it would be particularly good to mix with something taller, like Geranium species.

  6. Oxalis oregana: This native plant looks like a shamrock, and though it is slow to establish, once it has it's very tough and spreads. If you don't get the native Oxalis oregana be careful, as the other species are very aggressive.

  7. Euonymus spp.: These woody groundcover plants are evergreen, and come in lots of varieties like E. fortunei 'Emerald 'n'Gold' and 'Emerald Gaiety'. Do be sure to get a groundcover and not a shrub version of the plant. 'Emerald and Gold' is the most robust choice.

  8. Convallaria majalis: Also known as lily of the valley, this is a vigorous (aggressive!) groundcover.

  9. Maianthemum dilatatum: Called false lily of the valley, this native plant is a good choice for shade groundcover.

  10. Polystichum munitum: The native swordfern (or another fern species) might work. P. munitum is basically evergreen, though you might need to cut out some dead fronds in late winter, and makes a good mix with something else. Other deciduous ferns are higher maintenance.

There are also a couple of plants to avoid!

  1. DON'T plant Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum': Commonly called bishop's weed, and frequently used as a groundcover, this plant is very invasive.

  2. DON'T plant Lamium galeobdolon (formerly known as Lamiastrum), either: Yellow archangel is very invasive in Pacific Northwest forests.

Date 2018-09-26
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Euonymus, Liquidambar, Ulmus

There are a number of trees in my neighborhood which seem to be abnormal. The branches are changing shape, and instead of being round, they have ridges growing lengthwise along them. It makes the branches look misshapen, almost like elongated stars. It looks unnatural, maybe like a disease. I think the trees are maples. Do you know what could be causing this?


There are some trees and shrubs whose branches normally take the form I think you are describing, which is sometimes referred to as winged or alate. I am not aware of maples which do this, so I wonder if perhaps you were seeing sweet gum trees, or Liquidambar styraciflua. According to information from the Mathilda Mathias Botanical Garden in Los Angeles, "One diagnostic character is the presence of corky wings on young stems. In some cases, wings are due to stimulation of localized phellogens along a stem angle, as in winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus). Wings also occur on young stems of sweet gum (Liquidambar). Longitudinal splitting is the cause of stem wings in certain species of elm (Ulmus.)

Here are more images:
Euonymus alatus
Ulmus alata
Liquidambar styraciflua

According to the book Plant Form: an Illustrated Guide to Flowering Plant Morphology by Adrian Bell (Oxford University Press, 1990), these wings can be part of the way a particular plant grows. The book shows an illustration of metamers (also called phytomers), which are repeated constructional units (like building blocks) in the plant's development. From my unscientific perspective, I wondered if the wings might have a leaflike photosynthetic function. I did find an article from the Botanical Gazette from February 1889 (yes, 19th century!) by Emily Gregory which examines this issue. It seems to suggest that the corky wings on the branches may have the function of increasing branch circumference and this may provide the tree with extra protection.

A version of this question and answer appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of the Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin.

Date 2018-05-04
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