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.

Intriguing Witch Hazel

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant strawberries now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Roses should be pruned if you haven’t done so already. Remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray with Neem oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Bare root fruit trees are now available. Choose one tree or a whole orchard and get them planted while the weather is good for digging.

Winter-blooming Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a must-have shrub for fragrance and color in the winter garden. At a time when few plants are blooming, witch hazel adds sparkle to the landscape with its unusual, spidery flowers.

This North American native is very hardy, and can be grown as a single or multi-stemmed shrub. It is vase-shaped, growing 8 to 10 feet tall and spreading about 8 feet wide.

New branches are slightly fuzzy and brown, turning silver-grey as they age. Coppery new growth in spring and attractive gold fall color rounds out this shrub’s seasonal interest.

Witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, grow in full sun or partial shade, and, although they can be grown in all kinds of soil, they prefer moist, well-drained conditions. Little pruning is required except to tidy their shape by removing unruly branches during flowering.

The name witch hazel probably originated from the early settlers’ practice of using the plant’s forked branches for water divining and to make brooms. Hazel refers to the similarities between witch hazel and the true hazelnut trees.

Several named varieties are best known in nurseries. ‘Arnold Promise’ has clear yellow, fragrant flowers with petals that look like tiny party streamers. ‘Diane’ is one of the most brilliant varieties with bright red flowers. ‘Jelena’ has coppery-orange flowers and brilliant red fall color. They bloom from late February to March.

Witch hazel can be planted in a mixed shrub border or used for height in the back of a perennial border. It is great as a transitional plant between tended gardens and wilder natural areas. While this plant is not deer resistant, it has evolved along side deer and browsing won’t harm the plant, but can actually create a fuller shrub. Young plants may need to be protected.

Consider planting witch hazel where you can enjoy the fragrance mid-winter, such as in an entry garden or near a path or patio. Plant it with hazelnut, blueberry, huckleberry and hellebores for interest throughout the winter.

Witch hazel extract, taken from the leaves, twigs and bark, is used medicinally. It has been used for centuries to treat skin ailments. It is still a common ingredient in soaps, face washes and shampoos.

Check out this unusual, low-maintenance shrub now, when you can see their unique flowers.

Spring in the Garden

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    • Potatoes can be planted any time now. Choose from red, white, yellow and blue varieties.
    • Clematis that bloomed last summer can be pruned now. Wait on spring-blooming varieties until after they bloom.
    • Roses should be pruned if you haven’t done so already. Remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray with a combination of lime-sulfur and dormant oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available.

Harbingers of Spring

One of the miracles of nature is the beautiful blossoms that burst out of the bare branches each spring. As the cold wet days of winter give way to an occasional bright sunny day, we know that spring is not far away.

Soon we will be greeted with a burst of yellow out of the drab winter landscape as the forsythia comes into bloom. At about the same time the flaming red bushes of flowering quince will stand out as they come to life once again. Sweet daphne is another early bloomer, perfuming the neighborhood with its lovely, citrus-like fragrance. Odd-looking witchhazel takes it’s place in the landscape and bridalwreath spiraea sprays out in a fountain of white.

Few plants make such a dazzling show as forsythia. The flowers are borne so profusely on the upright to slightly arching branches that from a distance they look like long solid spikes of yellow. Forsythia is an easy shrub to grow. It does best in sun but tolerates light shade. It can grow to eight feet tall so give it room. Thin it out after blooming by cutting older stems down to the ground to keep the bush open and free of dead wood.

Flowering quince is well-liked for its showy spring bloom and it makes a fine hedge plant. They are very sturdy and drought tolerant. The bright red flowers and red-tinged new foliage are very attractive. In addition to the common red variety, there are a number of hybrids that show-off each spring in white, pink, and soft apricot pink. The low-growing types stay in the 2-3 feet range while the tall ones grow to 6-8 feet.

Daphne is certainly a prized plant for those who like fragrance in the garden. This evergreen shrub with glossy green or green and white leaves grows about four feet tall, spreading wider. The pink or white flowers give off a heady fragrance. Give them half day sun and good drainage. They will not tolerate soggy soil.

Another early blooming shrub is witchhazel. Its odd but attractive, spidery flowers give off a sweet fragrance. Overall, the plant has a twisted appearance, with branches veering off in all directions. Forked witchhazel twigs were used, in fact, as divining rods in the practice of “water witching,” hence the shrub’s curious name. Although most witchhazel flowers are a sulfur-yellow, those of the variety ‘Diana’ are a deep, coppery red.

Spiraea prunifolia, or bridalwreath, produces the lacy flowers so often used in old-fashioned wedding bouquets. Blooming just after the yellow forsythia, its tiny, double white flowers are borne on graceful, arching branches for about three weeks in spring. In fall, its slender leaves turn a lustrous orange. This shrub thrives in full sun or light shade and should be planted in well-drained soil.

When these “harbingers of spring” unfurl their pretty blossoms, it means spring is right around the corner.