Create seasonal cheer with living window boxes

Time to answer more questions from the e-mail bag... and a tip from a reader who kept deer from munching on his trees.
QUESTION: "I have east facing window boxes that are an eye-sore during the winter. Would English Ivy be suitable for planting now? I live in zone 8 or 9. Everyone here plants pansies during the winter (an abomination to this former New Englander) but I just can't. I'd be very happy with green drapes. Please let me know if this is feasible. I'd really like to have something in the boxes. Thanks so much." - Nancy Young
ANSWER: You can create some really interesting window boxes this time of year. The holidays are almost upon us, so you can decorate them with pine, cedar and boxwood branches and magnolia leaves adding in some poinsettias, holly, nandina and ribbon for splashes of color just as you would create arrangements inside for the holidays.
For true living window boxes, you can plant young junipers, arborvitae, pines, boxwood, holly, small mums, ornamental cabbage, rosemary, creeping thyme, pachysandra, small cool season ornamental grasses, ferns, heucheras plum pudding, and miniature roses (as well as ivy) at this time.
You should be able to get some ideas from your grocery store (some of the larger chains that have a plant dept). Usually this time of year you can find rosemary trees and other fun versions of plants to decorate your boxes.
For pictures and ideas of window boxes and containers, drop an e-mail to Cheryl at and put "Boxes" in the subject line.
QUESTION: "I loved your article on planting Black Walnut seeds. My question to you is this: I have an old bag of Hickory seeds, I don't know how old, but a few years. My friend gave them to me as he knows of my fondness for Hickory trees, and I wanted to plant the seeds around my property. He gave them to me when I was discussing your article the Walnut seeds. He had tons stored in his garage. Can I still plant them, and will they grow? Or should I just throw them to the squirrels?
"Also, a few years ago, I planted some Yoshino and Kwanzan trees. I noticed that the ones I wrapped with two inch masking tape for the last two winters, from the ground up, kept the Deer away from the bark! (I guess they can't smell the bark? That's all I could get, and it was cheap!) By spring the masking tape just fell off with ease. It flaked off like two inch dandruff pieces from the cold weather, I guess. It was an easy clean up, but best of all, it kept the pesky deer and rabbits off of my trees." -- Phil Downey
ANSWER: I'm sorry to say that the hickory nuts will probably not germinate, unless they have been kept at a good moisture content. However, if you do plant them cover them with soil about 1 times the diameter of the seed. You will know soon enough in spring if they have germinated successfully! Thanks for the masking tape idea. I'll pass it on to our readers.
QUESTION: "I have a 5 year old tree peony from China that has never bloomed. I fed it but nothing happened. It was supposed to have big blue flowers. Nevertheless, it just grows. So what I did 3 weeks ago, I chopped it down to 3 inches above the ground. Can you please tell me, will it grow back up or did I kill it?" - L. Salgado
ANSWER: Tree peonies once cut down, don't generally come back. They are peonies that are grafted onto other root stock. They are usually easy to grow, but there is also a list of things that can cause problems, including late freezes, planting too deep, inadequate sunlight, too much nitrogen, over watering or over fertilizing.
Bone meal and compost is the food of choice for these plants. Tree and regular peonies often have problems blooming in warmer areas (especially zones 8 and 9) where the weather doesn't provide enough chill time for them to regenerate.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free weekly e-mailed newsletter, go to

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