Yellow blossoms of forsythia bush against blue sky

The glowing yellow blossoms of forsythia light up the landscape.

If asked what my favorite color is, I’d have to say that it depends on when you ask.

At this time of year my favorite color is yellow. Why yellow? Well, when the natural landscape of the Berkshires for the past six months has been largely a blend of gray and brown, with some green scattered about, a burst of yellow is much like a bit of sun, giving me hope for the future. The yellow I am referring to comes primarily from the blossoms of forsythia shrubs.

I’ve never paid much attention to forsythia in the past. Except for a relatively brief spell in spring, the plant seemingly does not seem to have much to offer. Its bloom time is relatively short, about one to two weeks, and the foliage is not something to write home about. Despite that, I have become very fond of the plant because of its flowers which just seem to glow, even on cloudy days. The precise timing of forsythia bloom is influenced by several factors including soil and air temperature as well as day length. Flowering indicates that soil temperature is at least 55 degrees, and that reminds me this is the time to be planting many cool season vegetable crops and cold tolerant annuals.

Forsythia flowers on the previous year’s growth. Therefore, any pruning should be done after the plant has completed its bloom. Pruning typically involves removing about 1/3 of the oldest stems each year. If a plant is not flowering as well as in the past, it would not hurt to do some hard pruning, that is, cutting the canes back to ground level.

If you miss the sun, plant some forsythia shrubs this spring.

***

Here are some tasks that will light up the day:

  • In lieu of insecticides, place floating row covers over recent transplants in the vegetable garden. The row covers function as barriers to infestations of cabbage worms, flea beetles and other early season insect pests.
  • Start seeds of summer and winter squash, pumpkins, melon, and gourds indoors. Since these grow fast and will be ready for transplanting to the garden by the end of May, sow seeds in individual pots rather than seed flats. Try to use biodegradable pots such as peat pots, coir pots (made from coconut husks), paper pots, or cow pots (made from cow manure and not the cow itself, in case you’re wondering). These pots make transplanting easy since you plant pot and all.
  • Save seed packets after sowing vegetable seeds. The packets typically contain information on thinning and harvesting. Also, keep a record of varieties planted this year, their yields, and any pest problems that may have occurred. This will be useful in deciding what varieties to plant next year.
  • Remove any dead foliage from asparagus and rhubarb plantings. Then apply fertilizer and rake it into the soil. Limestone may also be added but have soil tested to determine if it is needed. A pH of 6.5 to 7.0 is best for growth of these plants. For information on soil testing, go to: ag.umass.edu/services/soil-plant-nutrient-testing-laboratory
  • Divide chives, marjoram, mints, oregano, thyme, and French tarragon to keep these fast spreading herbs from over-running the herb garden and invading the neighbor’s yard. Replant one of the divisions and give the others to friends. Also, take cuttings from rosemary, sage, and winter savory.
  • Prune rose bushes as the buds begin to swell. Cut back the browned portions of the canes as far as necessary to reach the live stem tissue, which is green.
  • Incorporate some blueberry bushes among landscape plantings. Blueberries are attractive as shrubs, particularly with their brilliant red foliage in the fall, and they yield a delicious crop of fruit.
  • Use a lawn roller only to smooth uneven areas caused by the heaving action of winter freezing and thawing. Since it can cause excessive soil compaction, rolling should only be done when necessary.
  • Apply lawn fertilizer now but only if none was applied last fall. Otherwise, wait until late May or early June to make the first application of the season.
  • Apply a dormant oil spray to trees and shrubs that were plagued by scale, mealybug, aphids, thrips, leafhoppers, and mites last year. Dormant oil also protects plants from certain diseases including powdery mildew, rust, and some leaf spots. The oil may be petroleum or plant-based. Be sure to read and follow label directions as there is a risk of damage to the plants if such oils are misused.
  • Plan to celebrate National Arbor Day, which is next Friday, April 29. Hug a tree! Otherwise, plant a tree. Your family and the birds and squirrels will love you for it.

Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.