Gardening Q&A: Board-leaved evergreens will likely bounce back from harsh winter

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Q. I have a steep hillside that is planted in English ivy. After this winter, the whole thing looks dead. All of the leaves are brown, and I am afraid I have lost all of the ivy. Do you think it is dead or just damaged from our long, cold winter?

A. Broad-leaved evergreens such as English ivy, rhododendron, mountain laurel and holly took a beating this winter. Drying winter winds draw moisture out of the leaves, and the plants cannot take up additional water from frozen soil to make up for the loss. The result is the browning you see now.

The good news is that their roots are probably fine, and they should start to put on new growth when temperatures warm up. The bad news is that if you don't trim out the dead leaves now, they will persist until they break down on their own, which will take a while. Once you clean out the dead leaves, make a light application of fertilizer to help the plants on the road to recovery. You can use 10-10-10, Milorganite or Plant-Tone according to label directions in mid- to late May. Be sure to fertilize when the plants are dry and brush off any granules that land on the leaves to avoid burning tender new growth.

Q. After many years of growing vegetables, I have accumulated quite a collection of leftover seeds. How long do they remain viable? My storage system has been haphazard at best. What is the best way to store seeds?

A. Store your seed in airtight jars or containers in the refrigerator. Those silica gel packs that are shipped with shoes and electronic equipment can be placed in the container to help keep the seeds dry.

Be sure to mark the containers with the variety and the date saved. Depending on the crop, seed will remain viable from one to five years.

You can check the germination by sprouting the seeds between moist paper towels. If germination is low (say one out of 10 seeds), discard the old seed and buy fresh seed. You may be able to plant enough of the old seed to get the desired number of plants.

The following information on seed viability comes from the Penn State Master Gardener Manual. These seeds can be stored for:

Five years: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, collard, cucumber, eggplant, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, muskmelon, radish, rutabaga, spinach, turnip and watermelon.

Four years: beet, pepper, pumpkin, tomato.

Three years: asparagus, bean, carrot, pea.

Two years: okra, parsley.

One year: leek, onion, parsnip, sweet corn.

Send questions to Sandy Feather by email at or by regular mail c/o Penn State Extension, 400 N. Lexington Ave., Pittsburgh 15208.

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