Harbingers of Spring

Friday, February 20th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Potatoes can be planted this month. Plant red, white, yellow and russet for a variety of uses and flavors.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper spray for the best results.
    • Plant bright and cheery primroses to brighten your flower beds and boxes.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.

Harbingers of Spring

Spring is on its way – cold mornings give way to beautiful warm days, birds are building nests, and here and there, the beginning of spring’s colorful show of flowers can be seen. Some flowering plants are always the first to bloom in the spring and thereby signal its approach.

The very first shrub to bloom each year is witch hazel, Hamamelis. Their spidery petals are twisted and ribbon-like forming radiant yellow, coppery orange, or dark red flowers that are surprisingly fragrant. They are slow-growing but will become large shrubs if not kept smaller with pruning.

An added bonus is their beautiful fall show of yellow, purple, orange and red leaves. Grow witch hazel plants in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. They are are nice in woodland gardens, but you’ll sacrifice some blooms if you don’t grow them in full sun.

Witch hazel has a special adaptation to cold: while a sunny day above freezing will pop the flower buds open, a sudden chill will cause the petals to roll up for protection, then, at the slightest hint of warmth, they unfurl again.

Flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, is one of the first shrubs to greet us with a burst of color. This unassuming shrub blooms delightfully anytime from February through March with waxy flowers in shades of red-orange, rose, pink or white.

A deciduous shrub, it grows from 6 to 10 feet tall and spreads as wide. It is a twiggy, tangled, multi-stemmed plant that makes a good barrier or hedge. The 1-1/2 inch, apple-blossom-like flowers are borne in clusters and are quite showy for over a month. Flowering quince will tolerate a wide range of soil and site conditions, including dry sites. For best growth and flowering, plant in full sun.

Forsythia ‘Spring Glory’ is a deciduous shrub that explodes each February in brilliant masses of yellow flowers. Flowers are produced in groups or clusters along the stems. Leaves emerge shortly after flowering and are medium green in summer.

Plant it as a single specimen in an out-of-the-way place where it will be a burst of golden color then blend into the background for the rest of the season. It will grow to 6-8 feet tall and wide, and can be used as a screen.

Since they bloom on old wood, forsythias should be pruned immediately after flowering. Pruning the shrubs from mid-summer to late winter will drastically reduce flowering in spring. Plants are drought-tolerant once established.

The lovely winter daphne, Daphne odora, is one of the sweetest fragrances of spring. In February, clusters of pink buds appear at the tips of the stems that open into white or pale pink flowers that are intensely fragrant with a citrus-like odor.

The leaves of winter daphne can be solid green, or bordered with a pale yellow edge. It makes a very neat evergreen shrub year-round and grows to about four feet tall and at least as wide. Plant it in a spot where it gets protection from the hot mid-day sun and has good drainage.

Enjoy the harbingers of spring as the longer days bring new life to the natural world.