The April Landscape
April is the start of the busy season for anybody in the professional plant business. We really look forward to spring during the long winter months but when it finally arrives, we find no time to "stop and smell the flowers". Now is the time for us to help make your yard beautiful. Sadly, our own yards must wait until time permits (August?).
Such is life for the horticulturist. Sometimes a dreamer and always an artist. Yet we take great pride in our work as we see how happy our clients are with their beautiful new landscapes that we helped create. Knowledge is always the key to success. Providing information about new plant introductions or discussing the merits of an excellent but underutilized plant for our area is always one of our goals. Whether we design/install your landscape or you purchase and install yourself, we want our plants to make you happy!
Late April is the time for magnolias to be in bloom. We grow several selections that are quite winter hardy for our area and perform well. We have them in pink, white and yellow. Many have fragrant flowers and bloom prior to leafing out. I have a Merrill magnolia in my yard and last year the frgrance was outstanding. The best time to enjoy the fragrance is early morning or late evening since the concentration is higher when less wind is present.
Yellow magnolias are not as common as other colors. We have grown and tested several yellow selections in the past but find 'Butterflies' to be one of the best. This selection has a pyramidal shape, 4" blooms and is hardy into zone 4. It grows 20' tall and 12'-15' wide. Like all magnolias, it is a slow grower. The flowers are very fragrant. We will have a limited quantity available for spring.
Other magnolias that we grow are:
'Merrill': White flowers, 30' tall.
'Messel': Pink flowers, 18' tall.
'Royal Star': Light pink bud opening to pure white. 8' tall.
Forsythia is another great plant in the April landscape. When they are in bloom usually mid-late April, their yellow/gold flowers are sure to please. Like the above magnolias mentioned, they also bloom prior to leafing out. If the weather is cool, bloom time can last for up to two weeks.
Not so long ago forsythia usually performed poorly in S.E. Wisconsin. I vividly remember a teacher in one of my college horticulture classes always pointing out all the large old forsythias on campus that bloomed well perhaps once every five years. The rest of the time only the bottom portion of the plant ( protected by the winter snowline) would bloom in spring. This all changed with the development and introduction of forsythia selections since the 1980's that are totally winter flower bud hardy for our area. Johnson's Nursery offers three very reliable selections:
Forsythia x 'Happy Centennial'
Developed in Canada at the Ottawa Experiment Station.
Low spreading growth habit.
30" tall x 4' wide.
Light yellow flower color. Excellent choice where a short plant is required.
Forsythia x 'Meadowlark'
A joint introduction from NDSU & SDSU. This selection grows 8'-10' tall and wide with a slightly arching growth habit. A good choice where space permits a large plant. It also works well for an unsheared hedgerow for screening or shelterbelt purposes. Named after the state bird of North Dakota.
Forsythia x 'Sunrise'
Very dark green foliage. Bright yellow flowers. Grows about 5 feet tall. Excellent dense form. Fantastic red fall color.
My only peeve about forsythia is when people choose the wrong selection for the space they have. When they grow too large, they shear them into a tight mounded form which is not their natural shape. To make the situation worse, they often shear too late in the season when the flower buds for the following spring are already formed. Since they bloom on previous season's growth, shearing late in the growing season will remove most of next spring's flower buds.
It is best to choose a forsythia selection that fits the space you have. Occasional renewal pruning is all that is needed to keep the plant in fine shape. There is no greater harbinger of spring than a grand old forsythia in bloom that still retains its natural slightly arching growth habit.
Paul Schwabe is a salesman in our Contractor Sales division. He holds a degree in horticulture and will be writing about some of his favorite and underused plants.