Winter creeper weather-wise is an oxymoron, true by definition. We all know winter creeps. As a plant, wintercreeper is “loser’s weepers.” It is creepy. If you like scary reading, Google it. Be careful though, it is also being sold as “Vibrant winter foliage. Spreading habit. Excellent ground cover. Wonderful in mass plantings.”
Caveat emptor! Buyer beware! A well-known TV garden personality has, from time to time, even suggested it as a ground cover; I am here to convince you, not! Not even its variegated forms.
Wintercreeper, aka, Euonymus fortunei, is a non-native, highly-invasive plant native to Asia, Japan and the Philippines in the family Celastraceae. This climbing euonymus is damaging, causing the death of urban trees and forests. It has opposite oval leaves and is evergreen.
The leaves are about one to two inches long, glossy, slightly toothed with light-colored veins. As a ground cover, the leaves are pointed and in winter, may turn a purplish color.
Once the vine climbs a wall or tree, it can reach 70-feet long and its leaves become more rounded. As it climbs, it reaches its adult stage and can flower with small white inconspicuous blooms. It produces orange seeds in a reddish capsule that are eaten by birds and mammals.
This is its main method of dispersal. It is fast growing, tolerates shade and full sun. It would make David Letterman’s Top Ten List of Invasive Plants in the U.S.
It is a vigorous vine that invades forests. It grows across the ground, displacing native wildflowers and woody plant seedlings. It climbs trees high into the canopy by clinging to the bark and can overtop the tree depriving it of sunlight, impeding photosynthesis, leading to its death. The weight of it on trees can cause them to topple in a windstorm. It occurs in most states east of the Mississippi River.
It “escaped” cultivation and comes in several cultivars, ‘Coloratus’, ‘Emerald Gaiety’, ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’. It can be seen around town growing up doomed trees feeding birds that will inadvertently spread it around.
Because it is evergreen, it is noticeable in winter and cannot be confused with Virginia creeper or poison ivy. Another evergreen climbing vine that you may see on trees is English Ivy, Hegera helix. It has alternate leaves that can be variable in color, but are typically green with white veins. They can be unlobed or have three to five lobes. It is the invasive cousin of wintercreeper and should be treated the same.
Winter is the best time to kill them. On trees, cut the vine at the base and remove an inch or two. Paint the ends with a full strength non-selective herbicide. You will need to repeat this until the vine is dead. Once dead, the vine can be removed as the roots will break away rather than cling to the tree.
On the ground, the best way to control them is to not plant them. Pulling them while young and the soil is moist is effective. Older plants can be treated like the vines on trees. Discard the plants, do not compost. Spraying with an herbicide with a surfactant (helps to penetrate the waxy coating) can be tried (read the label), but there is danger to surrounding plants if they are leafed out.
Things to do in the garden
Not much. Check perennials for heaving up out of the ground. Press them down gently with your foot. Send in your seed orders. Will our results ever match those of the glossy color pictures?
When you make out your seed and plant orders, consider planting more native and heirloom plants and vegetables. Native plants are plants that evolved here and are adapted to our conditions, diseases and native pests. While you’re at it, try googling the name of a flower you’re thinking about ordering. You will be able to see pictures and planting information.
This is the time to prune trees and shrubs (after you sharpen your tools). You can see their structure now that they are dormant and the leaves are down. Cut out crossing and rubbing branches and unwanted suckers.
Pruning can be done to reduce the size of a tree or shrub to bring it in to balance or to remove overhanging branches blocking a view or path. Remember, spring flowering shrubs should be pruned after flowering if you want to enjoy the blooms. Insects are less likely to be attracted to cuts while trees are dormant.
On smaller trees, you may want to take care of problems yourself. On larger trees, you should call in an expert to inspect and perhaps correct any problems.
Arborists are in a slow time of year. The ground, if frozen, will not be damaged and compacted as much from equipment and crews. The Arbor Day Foundation recommends that you have certified arborists check any safety problems you may have noticed.
To find them, go to www.isa-arbor.com click on “Verify Certification” and then “Find an Arborist.” The City of Circleville has Comprehensive Tree Plan. You can find it at ci.circleville.oh.us, in the search box type “tree plan.” There, you will find lots of information on caring for trees.
If you dug up bulbs for storage, check on them. Spritz them with water to prevent drying out. Throw away any rotting or shriveled ones. Water any dormant or overwintering plants in your garage or basement.
Some seeds can be started indoors this month for setting out in late March or early April, depending on the weather: onions, cabbage, cauliflower and other members of the Cole family.
Tim McDermott, Franklin County Educator has an excellent class he taught in seed starting YouTube. Search OSU Franklin County, Seed Starting The University of Minnesota has a good discussion; go to www.extension.umn.edu/garden /flowers/starting-seeds-indoors.
Also Google “winter sowing.” There, you will read how to use old plastic milk bottles to easily germinate some seeds. It is a good way to raise a lot of seedlings for planting “drifts,” those bands of like plants that wander serpentine through our flower beds.
This article was written by Paul J. Hang to be published in The Circleville Herald. Hang is an OSU Extension Master Gardener. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.