Ask the Plant & Pest Professor: Shrubbery, Carpenter Bees, & Peonies

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“Ask the Plant and Pest Professor” is compiled from phone and email questions asked the Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC), part of University of Maryland Extension, an educational outreach of the University of Maryland.

Question #1: My hydrangea doesn’t appear to be developing new leaves or is showing any signs of new growth along the stems. I do see some new growth coming from the bottom of the shrub but not much. Did the bad winter affect it? Do you think it will bloom this summer?

Answer #1: The severe winter weather caused many trees and shrubs to experience winter dieback. In many cases, the plants are dead, while others will recover. It sounds like the stems of your hydrangea died back but it is now coming back from the base or crown. This can be a slow process and there is a possibility that it will not bloom this summer. Especially so if you do not have a hydrangea that blooms on both old and new wood like Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’. Water the shrub should we experience a hot, dry summer and autumn. Also prune out the dead stems.

Question #2: Every year around this time we have carpenter bees flying around the wooden post that supports our mailbox. They frighten me when I open the box to get our mail. The mailman has not said anything to me about this but I do not want him or myself to get stung. Is there something I can do to prevent this from happening each year?

Answer#2: In April/May female carpenter bees are looking for suitable nest sites. They bore holes into unpainted, weathered wood surfaces. Males patrol close to the nests to drive away what they perceive as a threat. They fly aggressively towards intruders but they do not have the ability to sting. Females rarely sting and would only do so if they felt threatened. To reduce carpenter bee activity around your home paint wood surfaces with polyurethane or oil-based paint. Maintaining sound, finished wood surfaces is the best way to reduce carpenter bee damage. For additional information, including control, use the search box on the HGIC website given below.

Question #3: I bought several bags of peony roots at a local big box store and have now read online that fall is the best time to plant. Should I hold on to them until September/October to plant them then?

Answer #3: Indeed, the best time to plant bare-root plants or to transplant peonies is the fall. Container grown plants can be planted in the early spring. However, you should plant the peonies now because they will not store well until the fall. Plant in full sun for best bloom in rich, well-drained soil. Do not plant too deeply, crowns should be no deeper than 1-2 inches below the ground. Peony plants do not have to be dug up and divided often. They can be left undisturbed for 10-20 years.

To ask a home gardening or pest control question or for other help, go to http://extension.umd.edu/hgic Or phone HGIC at 1-800-342-2507, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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