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Friday, July 5, 2013 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.

Ciscoe Morris
Q&A: Ailing Photinia, pesky yellow jackets

By Ciscoe Morris
Special to The Seattle Times

In the Garden

Q: We’ve never had any problem or disease with our established Photinia hedge until last year. The leaves developed brown spots and then most of them dropped off. Can we save our hedge?

A: Photinia x fraseri used to be one of the most popular hedge plants around because the new leaves on the fast-growing evergreen shrub are a spectacular red when they emerge in spring. That was until a disease called Photinia leaf spot took hold in our area.

Now, signs of the disease can be seen everywhere. It begins with ugly spotting on the leaves, followed by leaf drop. Often the shrub is left practically naked, and in severe cases the plant can die. Fungicides can prevent the disease, but sprays must be applied at the first sign of spring growth and reapplied regularly until spring rains stop. Worst of all, the disease spreads anytime the leaves are wet, so in rainy summers, spraying may be required all season long.

The best cure for this disease is a chain and a pickup. Consider replacing your Photinia with a hedge of a variety of trees and shrubs. Mixed hedges can look great, attract birds, and since most fungus diseases are plant-specific, the effects of a disease like this will be much less noticeable in a mixed hedge.

Q: We recently discovered a yellow-jacket nest in our yard. Are they dangerous, and if so, what’s the best way to deal with it?

A: In general, yellow jackets are beneficial. The kinds that make paper nests in bushes, trees, or the eaves of your house rarely bother humans. Instead, they search out tasty crane flies, caterpillars and other insects that can be harmful to plants. If the nest is in an out-of-the-way location where no one will accidentally run into it, it’s best just to leave it alone.

The yellow jackets that build their nests in the ground are another story. They also feed on harmful insects, but they are the ones that bother your picnic and have been known to sting when people try to shoo them away. Much worse, these bothersome yellow jackets tend to enter pop cans unseen, making for some unpleasant surprises when unsuspecting picnickers take a drink! They also can be very aggressive if you get too near their nests.

If you decide you must spray, do it at night, and only if you aren’t allergic to stings. Wear heavy clothes, button the top collar of your shirt and put rubber bands around pant and shirt cuffs. Use a spray containing carbon dioxide that will freeze the wasps on contact in case they swarm. Use a flashlight, but put it on a chair so that you can illuminate the target hands free. Yellow jackets are attracted to light, and if anything goes wrong, it will serve as a beacon telling them: “Hey guys, here I am! Come get me!”

Sort of makes calling the exterminator an attractive option, doesn’t it?

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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