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Loosen Up And Grow Shrubs In Natural Habit
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
I wanted to title this article "Loosen Up and Garden Au Naturel," but my editor wouldn't let me because the phrase implies naked and no one gardens that way. I had already cast a blight on the University with a previous article about Naked Ladies, a.k.a. spider lilies.
The natural gardening I refer to will not sunburn your backside but will enhance several of your choice shrubs. This time of the year it's easy to notice bridal wreath spiraea, especially when they are allowed to grow naturally with their long arching stems loaded with hundreds of glistening white flowers. The forsythia with their bright yellow blossoms are equally spectacular.
These long arching stems are the natural habit of these shrubs. But as you travel you will notice many sheared into tight balls.
Maintain the natural habit for the forsythia by selectively pruning unproductive branches immediately after bloom and trimming the rest by about a third. After bloom, you can cut the spiraea more severely, even to the ground. Next year's bloom is produced on this year's growth. Neither plant look its best when grown by control junkies who must have the tight sheared look.
It is a rare gardener, however, who lets the spiraea develop its true potential with long arching stems reaching 6 to 8 feet in height. Several forsythia varieties are happiest in the 7 to 9 foot range, but there are dwarf forms mentioned below.
Feed now with light application of a slow released balanced fertilizer and again in mid-summer.
If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself without a spiraea or forsythia, now is a great time to plant some of these fine shrubs. Choose a site in full sun to partial shade. Prepare a bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and two pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply.
Dig the planting hole three to five times as wide as the root ball but no deeper. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch. In light of the current moisture situation, keep them well watered and mulched.
The graceful weeping of the branches adorned with white or yellow spring flowers make these plants ideal for the back of the shrub beds and combined with spring bulbs, azaleas and evergreens like hollies.
The bluish-green foliage of the spiraea stands out against the dark green of other plants. The fall foliage is a welcome yellow or orange. While this spiraea is sold almost totally generic, the two species we think of as bridal wreaths are spiraea prunifolium and spiraea vanhouttei.
Renaissance and Snow White are the two main varieties of vanhouttei. Also try selections of Spiraea bumalda such as Anthony Waterer that has pink blooms in summer and fall.
Forsythia shopping is better, and many gardeners will be surprised to know there are more than 30 varieties available. Dwarf compact forms to try are Gold Tide and Golden Nugget. Those of typical height you may want to try are Spring Glory, Linwood Gold and Spectabilis.
Garden naturally with your spiraea, forsythia, abelias and even antique roses. The natural habit of these plants is pleasing to the eye and the landscape.