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QUESTION: I have a holly tree that produces many berries, and I look forward to the waxwing birds each winter. This winter all of the berries fell off in November. Why was there an early drop?

ANSWER: A few things could cause berries to drop early: dry conditions, very low temperatures, and overfertilization. Overfertilization causes the plants to kick off their berries in order to make new growth. However, that usually happens much earlier in the summer.

Many gardeners saw berries drop early last fall due to the dry conditions. My winterberry bushes did the same thing. They were full of berries in August and completely bare by the first of October. Since the other two factors are weather-related, there really isn’t anything you could have done to prevent it. We’ll just hope for better conditions this year.

QUESTION: Is there a way to tell whether an American holly tree is male or female when the tree is young? How old is a plant typically when it will first show berries?

ANSWER: It’s very difficult to distinguish between male and female blooms on American holly. While their white flowers are almost identical, males have more prominent stamens than females. Obviously, this would require some expertise and a close comparison of the blooms. As for how old a tree has to be in order to produce berries, that depends on the tree and its location. However, it’s a safe bet that a young holly will take three to five years to begin producing berries.

QUESTION: Can I fertilize my shrubbery now? Some of it looks OK, but others look like they really suffered this winter.

ANSWER: Mid-March is a great time to fertilize nonblooming evergreens. These plants should soon start to produce their new growth, and the fertilizer will help support that. On the other hand, spring-blooming plants, such as azaleas and rhododendron, shouldn’t be fertilized until after they bloom. Feeding them too early will shorten the blooming period by forcing the plants to reject those flowers in order to produce new growth.

Many evergreens suffered from those single-digit temperatures in January that were accompanied by high winds. The leaves were not able to replace the moisture robbed by the wind while the plant was frozen. You can certainly cut out the damaged parts and feed those plants to help repair some of the winter damage.

QUESTION: Last year my lawn was covered with a broadleaf plant with a purple flower. I live in Nellysford. My daughter, who lives in Richmond, had the same thing and was told they were violets and the only way to get rid of them is to dig them out. In my case, by the time I noticed, they were so invasive that none of the regular weed-control products worked. Is there a pre-emergent product that I can use to control them?

ANSWER: I’m afraid violets are perennial, so a pre-emergent will not provide effective control. Wild violets are difficult to control, and no herbicides listed in a Pest Management Guide from Cooperative Extension provide excellent control. You can try a selective broadleaf herbicide containing carfentrazone. According to the label, when used in combination with other selective broadleaf herbicides, it can provide some control for wild violets.

The Pest Management Guide suggests treating in early April, when they first start to break dormancy and before they start to bloom. Be sure to follow the label as you might need follow-up treatments. In any case, it will likely take a couple of years to get them under control.

Richard Nunnally is a freelance writer and is retired from Virginia Cooperative Extension. You can reach him at

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