Monday, April 28, 2014

Forsythia: the Harbinger

     Forsythia holds a special spot for many of us because it is the first shrub to flower in spring. That was especially true this year as the cold dragged on and we began to worry that spring had been pushed off the calendar altogether.

     To be truly spectacular the shrub needs full sun, so our shady Beverly neighborhood is not the ideal environment for this plant. If you have a choice it is best to give forsythia the sunniest corner of your yard. But after months of bleak colors even partial shade will produce flowers that seem to create warmth all by themselves.

This forsythia did not bloom at all for years thanks to being
placed under a massive 5-trunk mulberry tree. Now that the
tree is down, flowers have re-appeared.

     The biggest obstacle to  a cascade of yellow blooms, however, is our pruning. Most of the older forsythia naturally grow 10 feet high and wide and are at their most beautiful when left to grow naturally. But that is a lot of real estate for one plant to occupy,  and many city-dwellers end up pruning them into hedges.  Forsythia do not object to this, but the branches you cut off this summer contain the buds for next spring's flowers. Next season you will wonder where the yellow went.

     The best compromise you can make between size and flower is to prune your shrubs once and severely immediately after your  display begins to fade. That way you can trim back your shrub before the buds for next year have a chance to develop.

     Those not blessed with Grandma's shrubs are fortunate enough to have other choices. For a number of years our nurseries have been working to develop varieties that fit more easily into modern yards. Modern cultivars like 'Sunrise,'  'Bronxensis,' and 'Gold Tide' reach heights of only 6', 3' and 2' respectfully. At last we can have a manageable size and our flowers, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Struggling to Get Started

     I wrote in the April  Villager that our late planting start this spring was likely to be more because our soil was too wet  than because it was too cold. Almost correct, but not quite. It was not until April 11 that our garden patch finally dried enough to allow us to till. We built our raised beds on Friday, planted spinach, broccoli and other seedlings on Saturday, and put in our peas on Sunday just before the rain started again.

Beds are raised about 8" above pathways covered with landscape cloth.

     What I had not anticipated, however, is that the rain would turn to snow as the temperature dropped to 26 degrees. This is what farmers call a "hard frost," and it can be deadly to many tender flowers and vegetables.

My raised beds the morning after snow and hard frost.

     We noticed on Saturday that the garden centers of many of the big box stores were jammed with tomatoes, basil and other tender annuals that are totally useless for at least another month. I hope their customers did not lose their plants the very first day they bought them. People who covered their plants overnight would have kept them alive, but they will not grow until the weather gets warmer.

     Fortunately, we knew to plant only our frost hardy veggies this weekend. We could have planted violas and pansies as well. We will wait a month or so to plant the rest.

*     *     *

     One consolation during these weeks of rain, cold, and now once more snow is the appearance of spring bulbs. Crocus made their appearance a few weeks ago and daffodils are now popping up as well.

     And every spring I am asked what those little blue flowers are in people's lawns. The answer is "scilla," another hardy spring bulb that makes quite a display for a few weeks in lawns along Longwood and Prospect.

     Scilla can be ordered from most bulb catalogs. It is also, however, a bit controversial.  Like daffodils, scilla "naturalizes," that is, the bulbs multiply and spread naturally in the landscape. If you like them this is a good thing. If you don't they can be considered "invasive." They can be mowed right after bloom, but as you can see, the blades are more coarse than grass. The true aficionado of a fine lawn would find the bulbs unwelcome house guests in their yard. I mentioned scilla in the Villager a few years ago and was chastised by some for promoting an invasive weed. Good neighbors will show a little caution.