Garden Tips - May 2016 - from Gerrie Beck

We love gardening advice from our friend, Paul Parent. The below is from the Paul Parent Garden Club newsletter of April 21st.

His publications have some wonderful reference material - to go to his full site and see the other topics click here.

Spring is here when the Forsythia is in bloom

Even if you're not a gardener, you know the forsythia flowering shrub because of its wonderful golden yellow waxy flowers at this time of the year; it's our first and most beautiful plant of spring time. Each flower has 4 petals and the center looks like a tiny trumpet, 1 to 1.5 inches long and wide.

Some people do not know the name of the plant but they know that it's beautiful and they want "One of those yellow shrubs that are in bloom right now, for my yard." Forsythia is so popular because it will grow in most soil types, it will grow in a yard with full sun exposure to half a day of shade, and it will tolerate a climate where the temperature drops to minus 10 degrees during the winter.

I think forsythia is the most recognized flowering shrub because it is the first to flower in the spring time and because the entire plant is covered with flowers from the ground to the top of every branch. Most flowering plants flower on the tip of the branches, on the new growth on top of the plant or along the stems but few plants flower right to the ground.

At this time of the year when we have had cold, cloudy, and wet weather for many weeks, the golden yellow flowers are like the sunshine we miss most during the winter. Forsythia is a plant that will grow in everyone yard, no matter how much or how little you know about gardening.
Let me tell you how forsythia will grow better for you in your yard. This plant will grow large, so give it plenty of room when you choose a spot in your yard. If you do not prune your plant, it can grow 8 to 10 feet tall and just as wide. If you want to keep the plant smaller and under control you will have to prune it every spring when it finishes flowering.

The pruning is best done by cutting back the individual branches by 1/3 to 1/2, or removing the largest branches to stimulate new growth from the base of the plant. This pruning must be done before the new foliage begins to form on the plant, so all the energy in the plant can encourage new growth uniformly throughout the plant. What makes this plant look so nice in the spring is that all the branches are tangled, growing in all directions, and--if pruned properly--the plant will grow in a rounded spreading mound with branches that grow upright or cascade to the ground.

I prune my plants when half of the flowers have fallen and like me, you should NEVER use hedge shears when pruning. Hedge shears shape the plant to grow too rounded--sometimes like a ball-shaped shrub because you are pruning all the branches the same length. Prune each branch separately and at different lengths to keep the plant looking graceful and more natural. Pruning in the early spring encourages new growth to thicken the plant and encourages more flower buds to form on the plant for next spring.

When you plant, condition the soil with compost, animal manure, or peat moss to encourage the plant to get established quickly in your garden. I encourage you to add kelp or mycorrhizae at the same time for better root development. You should water the plant every other day the first month and weekly right up to frost the first year. In the fall (early September), fertilize with Plant Tone or Turf Trust Shrub fertilizer to prepare it for the winter.

You will notice that the branches of the forsythia plant are covered with small raised bumps. These bumps are like spots of a cork-like material very similar to the raised edge, or wing-like growths of the burning bush, and are very noticeable when the leaves are off the plant. When the new growth first forms, the bark will be golden yellow in color; it matures to gray. The flower buds develop around the stems in clusters facing in all directions, and when they are open cover the entire plant.

The foliage is medium green, oval, 2 to 4 inches long and 1 to 1 1/2 inch wide, with tiny teeth along the edge of the leaf. In the fall, the foliage will change to a bright purple-red color if the plant is in the sun all day. Plants in partial shade will not change color; the foliage falls from the plant when still green.

Forsythia makes a wonderful plant for a privacy hedge and will grow very well along the side of the road where salt can be a problem for most other plants. Use it in mass plantings to bring color into your yard, as individual plants in your foundation planting, or as a background plant behind your perennial gardens.

Forsythia has few to no problems with insects or disease, and aside from spring pruning requires little to no attention from you during the year. Because it does grow so thick but looks open and airy, the plant will make a great place for nesting birds to make nests once the foliage develops. The stems are very strong and when the foliage falls from the plant, snow can easily fall through the branches of the plant, causing little to no damage during the winter.

There are some varieties that are more weeping than upright growing. These are wonderful when planted on top of a wall or on the side of a hill, allowing branches to hang down to the ground or over the wall; look for forsythia suspensa v. sieboldii.

If the tall growing varieties are too tall for you and you like the yellow flowers in the spring, look for the new dwarf types like forsythia 'Bronxensis,' which grows one-foot-tall and will spread to 3 feet wide. This plant will make a great ground cover or low growing hedge.

Also for a bit more height, look for forsythia 'Arnold,' a dwarf which will grow 3 feet tall and wide. This plant has wide arching branches, and when the branches contact the soil, they will root easily. Just dig up the rooted branch and you will have a new plant for your garden. This forsythia is wonderful for planting on slopes or banks.

The most popular tall growing varieties are 'Lynwood Gold,' 'Spring Glory' and 'Robusta.' Look for them this spring at your favorite nursery or garden center. One last thing to remember about the forsythia is that this plant can be pruned from January to April. The branches you cut can be brought into the house, placed in a tall vase of water and the buds will burst open, giving you a peek at what spring will look like in just a few weeks. Enjoy!!!

Written by Paul Parent                         Produced by Christine Parent
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