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WHAT’S BLOOMIN’ A COLUMN BY JANE FORD

Gardening column: Forsythia’s star-shaped flowers a sign of spring

Friday, March 14, 2014 - 7:49 am

Winds of change are happening all around us — at last! Right before Wednesday's snowstorm plants were being uncovered. We should soon see new life especially in the early bloomers such as spring bulb plants and Forsythia. Won't that be wonderful? We'll all be tempted to stop and take pictures — well, I'll be tempted to do that, I can tell you.

Forsythia is one of our toughest shrubs and also taken for granted because it has been around our gardens for so many years. In spite of our often ho-hum attitude toward this plant, we feel our spirits lifted when we see them covered with those bright yellow star-shaped flowers in early spring — and it happens almost before anything else appears to be alive.

Forsythia is a genus of flowering plants in the family Oleaceae. There are about 11 species, mostly native to eastern Asia, but one is native to southeastern Europe. The genus was named after William Forsyth (1737-1804), a Scottish botanist who was royal head gardener and a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The one we see most often here is Forsythia suspensa or weeping Forsythia. Those characteristics can cause this plant to become overgrown because those weeping branches, once on the ground, can take root and become another plant altogether.

Here are a few tips to keep this beautiful spring blooming plant happy and in bounds and looking good all year round:

•To keep Forsythia in bounds, pruning lower branches is necessary — unless you want a hedge row, then allowing it to droop and take root and make new plants would be a plus.

•You can prune this plant even before it blooms, but selective pruning is the best idea. By that I mean, before it blooms and leafs out, you can clearly see any dead and oversized branches that need to be taken out down to the root base. Doing this will open up the plant and allow air to pass through, which is essential to plant health. Pruning lower branches in order to keep the plant in bounds can be done now as well. By pruning in this manner, you will not be cutting off all the blooming branches.

•Forsythia likes full sun or part shade. Any type of soil is OK (acid, neutral, slightly alkaline), and Forsythia prefers a well-drained area in the landscape.

•There are several reasons to add Forsythia to the landscape; it isn't a favorite of deer, the black walnut (juglone) doesn't bother it and it doesn't mind clay soil (although I would amend the clay with compost and some manure before planting). Also it doesn't need a lot of maintenance and doesn't seem to mind our dry seasons. Pruning is about all you'll need to do.

•If you don't have Forsythia and would like one (or several) — when this plant is blooming in a friend's or neighbor's yard, ask them if you can have a branch or two. Pick out a spot to plant in and prep the soil ahead of time. (You can also start Forsythia in a container).

To encourage rooting, dip the cut end of the branch in rooting hormone and make sure it coats those bud nodes then insert in the soil making sure the nodes are covered. Water well then let nature take its course.

Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to jaf701@frontier .com. This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel.