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Answering e-mails on forsythia, dividing bulbs, more

I love spring cleaning, indoors and out. So it's time to clean out the mailbox to answer several questions and to pass along some good suggestions.

Brian Elkins writes: "My mother would like to have some forsythia to put beside her driveway. I read a column of yours wherein you described using forsythia as a "great divide." Where can I get some for her? I would prefer to buy locally, but if it must be ordered, so be it."

There are numerous sources for forsythia - you need only look as far as most any garden center in town. Some of my favorite cultivars are Forsythia x intermedia, 'Spring Glory,' for its beautiful blossoms, Forsythia x intermedia spectabilis, 'Lynwood Gold' for its quick growth, and Forsythia 'Gold Tide,' which is a dwarf that grows only 20 inches tall with a 4-foot spread.

"I have been remiss in taking my bulbs up in the fall for the past two years. Now they are so compacted together, I doubt my blooms will be outstanding as usual. Can I dig them up after blooming, place in cool storage and replant in the fall? Also, what is a good fertilizer for my bulbs? I use Jerry Marsh's wonderful dirt and my flower beds have done really well," writes Betty Ray of South Charleston.

Summer is the dormant period for spring bulbs, so once they have bloomed and the foliage has died back, you can dig them and divide them. Store them in a well-ventilated place and replant in the fall. It's good to dig and separate daffodils and crocus about every five years, as it will encourage larger, more even blooms. Bone meal is a great fertilizer for bulbs left in the ground year-round. It's slow-acting and long-lasting and encourages root growth.

Charles McElwee has a catalog and book to recommend. "Kinsman Company's Gardener's Catalog, spring/summer 2008, (www.kinsmangarden.com) features side-planting container gardening, described as a revolutionary container planting technique developed by Pamela Crawford. Her recent book, "Instant Container Gardening," is highlighted.

"I ordered it (Kinsman item No. PCICG, $19.95), and I can say that it is among the most beautifully illustrated and informative garden books that I have seen. The photographs are worth the price .... I am confident that most people who see the book will have a new-found or heightened interest in this form of gardening. I highly recommend the book. Her Web site is www.sideplanting.com.";

I have to admit, I've already ordered the book after viewing the Web site!

Linda Harshbarger agreed with my assessment of the garden baskets offered in the trendy "style" magazines. "I really loved your article this morning because I have thought the same things about these garden baskets. They always looked kind of 'gimmicky,' geared for people who don't really garden much themselves. It really made me laugh. I also relate to the practical gifts you get for your birthday. Last year, my husband built me a compost bin! And I really can't imagine being more thrilled with anything else. My goal this year is to try to make my gardening a little less time consuming and a little more rewarding. And to avoid pulling muscles. I guess we all have 'high maintenance' plants and 'high maintenance' areas in our gardens."

We had very old cherry trees on our property when we bought it, but a good windstorm took them out one spring. So when Ann Castaldo asked a question about cherry trees, I called in an expert. Ann writes, "We purchased some Yoshino cherry trees. Found what we need to know about planting/pruning but can't find anything on fertilizing/feeding (other than organic bed/mulch). Can you direct us to someone who can help?"

Holly Hoffman of TerraSalis gave us the answer. "The cherries need no particular treatment other than standard procedure. I use mushroom compost (Posy Power) and pine bark mulch as soil amendments when planting. I also like to use a little Super Thrive, which helps lessen transplant shock and hastens root development. I don't fertilize until the plant is established. This gives the plant time to get rooted without having to support lots of new growth. Once established I use Espoma products (PlantTone or TreeTone for the cherries) in late fall, November, and again in early spring, late February or March."

Kathy McCallister writes, "I have one question: How do you become a Master Gardener?"

I called Rick Wolford and here's his answer:

"Call Bridget at the WVU/Kanawha County Extension Office at 768-1202. She'll put you on a list, and they will contact you when the next class is being scheduled."

Rick reminded me that the class lasts 10 weeks, three hours a week. Once the class is finished, the new Master Gardeners must do several hours of community service. It's a great class (I actually learned how much I don't know) and the folks involved are wonderful.

March winds

"Botanists say that trees need the powerful March winds to flex their trunks and main branches, so the sap is drawn up to nourish the budding leaves. Perhaps we need the gales of life in the same way, though we dislike enduring them." - Jane Truax

Sara Busse is a Charleston resident and Master Gardener. She may be contacted at sjbusse@gmail.com.


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