Let the Sun Shine In


A neat, completely green sheared hedge of privet can be very attractive in a landscape. But most often the bottom branches lose their leaves, and the hedge quickly loses its attractiveness. This is a common problem and one that can easily be corrected, as I showed in a recent pruning workshop that required rejuvenating an old privet hedge with nothing but naked branches on the lower half. 

Plants lose their bottom leaves because those leaves are being shaded out by branches and leaves above. For a hedge to remain healthy, it must be properly shaped, and the shape must be maintained.

To keep a hedge or any sheared plant healthy, always make certain that the bottom of the plant is wider than the top. Never allow the top of the plant to become wider than the bottom or the top will shade the bottom.

-To rejuvenate an old privet hedge, cut the hedge as close to the ground as possible. New shoots will emerge from the crown and surface roots. The more stems that emerge, the better. 

Privet plants with many stems develop into a denser hedge. Allow the majority of the stems to grow at least 12 inches tall before cutting them in half. Allow the new growth to grow another 10 inches before cutting the new growth in half. By then, the new stems should be developing side branches. As soon as the stems produce an abundant supply of side branches, begin shaping the hedge so that the bottom side branches extend beyond the upper branches. Always keep the top of the hedge narrower than the bottom.

If you want to grow a hedge that is less sensitive to the influence of sunlight on the lower branches, consider growing yews, Japanese hollies, Chinese hollies, osmanthus, boxwood or cherry laurel. The leaves of these species are much more tolerant to shade conditions.

Tomato Troubles

Q: We live in northern Calvert County. Last year, we had beautiful tomato plants, big and bushy and, by the middle of July, beautiful medium-sized fruit. But they would not ripen on the vine and stayed very hard. My wife looked into it and was told it was due to high nitrogen, probably due to our well water. Does this make sense to you?

Capturing rain water to the degree we would need it is not an option. Is there any way of offsetting this?

–Peter Brooks, Chesapeake Beach


A: If your well water had that much nitrogen, you would be suffering health problems. What variety of tomatoes did you plant? What kind of fertilizer did you use and how much did you apply per plant? Is your garden in full sun or in partial shade? Before I can respond to your tomato problem, I need answers to these questions.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected] All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.