By Jim Lakin, MD
“April is the cruelest month…mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”
The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot
Eliot’s words ring especially true for the Minnesota gardener. It’s not just the killer frosts that we somehow hope won’t come, but always do. It’s the regret over not planting all those wonderful crocus and daffodils last fall. “How wonderful they would have been if I’d only had the time.” Happily, there is a way out of this existential crisis. Flowering bulbs are not the only plants that can bloom in early spring. There are a number of spring flowering shrubs that do very well here in Minnesota such as Cornelian cherry dogwood, witch hazel, spice bush and spirea. My sentimental favorite, however, is forsythia. This hardy bush is among the first plants to burst into a springtime brilliance of yellow golden flowers. After a long Northland winter, it bespeaks of joy and hope.
Like every worthwhile thing some care is needed to get the best out of your forsythias. First, the sighting of your plant is important. Forsythias do best in full sun. What that means is at least six hours of full exposure per day. Less than that and flowering will be reduced. Like so many garden plants, well-drained soil is important. Wet, marshy locations are not good. A high content of organic matter in the soil will allow the plant to flourish. You can achieve this at planting by mixing a generous amount of compost into the removed soil. Top that off with a two to three inches of mulch to promote moisture retention as we get into the warmer months and to keep down weeds. During the first year or two make sure that the plants receive at least two inches of water per week although once established forsythia tolerates drought fairly well. Application of a balanced fertilizer (e.g., 10-10-10) every three months or so in spring and summer will promote vigorous growth. Don’t fertilize after August, however, as you want the plant to slow down as it prepares to go into dormancy.
With such care you should have a fast-growing shrub. To keep forsythia from becoming overgrown prune right after it has finished blooming. That should leave you plenty of time to start planning for that fall bulb plant!
Jim Lakin, MD
Visit University of MN Yard and Garden for more information on Growing Forsythia.