Goshen News, Goshen, IN

April 26, 2013

DIRT ON GARDENING: Roller-coaster spring messing with planting time


— It must be spring — or is it?

The calendar says it is and most of the spring bulbs would indicate that this is the fact; the earliest of the blooming shrubs, forsythia, is popping with sprays of bright yellow/gold, so what is the problem? Well, the problem is, it forgot to warm up like it should in the spring.

Normally forsythia will have bloomed in late March to early April already (sometimes with very early warm-ups as early as February), but not this year. Why? Because its flowering is dictated more by the temperature of the air than the calendar. Branches are quite often brought in the home when it’s still freezing outdoors to “force” the blooming process creating an early touch of spring blooms indoors.

When planting forsythia, always give them plenty of room to grow. One of the most common mistakes is to place them as a foundation shrub and then discover that they soon far outgrow this spot making it necessary to “contain” them by trimming into ball or boxed shapes which most horticulturists would say is ugly.

They are best suited as a specimen shrub or grouped with other shrubs in an area that will allow their size (7 to 10 feet) to expand naturally. They are meant to flow and drape naturally, not sheared into shapes.

All the care that is necessary when grooming these beauties is best left to late winter or very early spring when your vision isn’t inhibited by leaves. Trim all the dead wood out to ground level as well as some of the largest older branches.

In other words, open up the center somewhat. Also trim out branches that cross one-another causing open wounds and unruly branches that won’t enhance their natural beauty. When cared for properly they will speak volumes as a valuable beautification of your property.

This roller-coaster ride we’re on becomes a little unnerving because we’re all anxious to get out there in spring attire and get our hands dirty in the soil and get our gardens in order and plant something.

Matter of fact, the calendar is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to planting time. Most important would be soil temperatures in the 60 to 66 degree range to initiate germination. Not to say you can’t plant in colder soil temperatures but don’t expect anything to happen until the proper soil temps arrive.

This is exactly why many greenhouse operations use heated tables to initiate germination. In fact, the enclosed area used for starting seeds and smaller rooted cuttings in these large operations are much warmer than the remaining greenhouses. Some even incorporate heat/growing lamps to supplement their heated tables.

One grower, that I bought thousands of rooted geranium cuttings from, had a system of tubing in his tables that he ran warm water through from a huge boiler — not too many of those around anymore but it certainly did the job.

Something great is about to happen, albeit not this week. I took a sneak-peek at the weather forecast and it appears we are in for some temperatures in the 70s. These forecasts are never wrong — right?