My Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas, Zone 5) is benefitting from this cool, moist spring, and barring sudden leaps in temperature, I can hope for three weeks of beautiful display. I’m grateful for this, as I need an early spring show to replace the splendors of two redbuds, removed because they seeded too prolifically. (For a while, I was hosting the national spontaneous redbud collection.)
Cornelian cherry blooms early with short-stalked umbels of yellow flowers breaking from bare wood. The flowers have a heavy honey scent if you stick your nose on them (but it doesn’t seem to travel in the air), and the yellow colour is similar to forsythia. What I like best is the luxuriant blooms on bare wood, with no distraction of foliage.
The dogwood has additional attributes, making it a valuable plant all summer. The attractive foliage is bright green, slightly glossy and deeply veined, and the flowers are followed by prominent red berries that are ornamental and also edible—but as plant authority Michael Dirr says, you would have to be really hungry to eat them. The shrub is also amenable to shaping; I’ve been pruning mine into a small seven-foot (2-m) tree form. There are several fancy cultivars, including ‘Aurea’, with golden foliage and growth to 15 feet (4.5 m) high, and ‘Variegata’, with leaf margins edged in cream, growing 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 m). These are big plants, with multiple features, and an elegant burst of colour in earliest spring. I think Cornelian cherry dogwood is a good substitute for forsythia when you want a plant with character and full-season value.
Blooming at the same time on the opposite side of the garden are two pink Bodnant viburnums, ‘Dawn’ and ‘Charles Lamont’ (Viburnum bodnantense, Zone 6), both covered with flowers bursting from bare wood and puffing out clouds of sweet spicy scent. This is a lovely way to start the season!
Double bloodroot shines on
The bright glare in my front garden isn’t security lighting — it’s pristine white double bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis forma multiplex, Zone 4) in full bloom. Bloodroot grows from a creeping rhizome perilously close to ground level. They’re slow to get started, but began to creep forward in about the third year. Nothing equals the blazing white of the 64 petals to each flower, shining out from the brown leaf mulch.
I have some single-flowered bloodroots in my back garden, where they pop up under a spruce tree. They have a simple charm that suits the thin sunlight in earliest spring, and after the flowers, the grey-green lobed leaves are quite interesting. Each rhizome of the single bloodroot sends up a flower with eight to 12 petals surrounding a centre of bright yellow reproductive parts. The single flowers are quickly pollinated by small bees and flies, and then the petals drop (usually within two days). My colleague Stephen Westcott-Gratton informs me that the doublebloodroot is a spontaneous and natural mutation of the single flower, and an example of a perennial plant hybridizing itself. The many additional petals to the multiplex mutation were formed by sexual parts being converted to petals. Rhizomes of the double bloodroot send up clusters of flowers, and they last at least 10 days. The double flowers last longer because there are no accessible sexual parts to be pollinated. It’s a losing proposition for the bees and flies, but a winner for gardeners!
Epsom salts for roses
The rose bushes are sprouting, and will soon have new leaves ready to process the plants’ first meal of fertilizer. I use a granular rose fertilizer (troweled into the soil over the plant’s roots), with a balanced ratio of nutrients like 10-10-10, or sometimes with a larger amount of phosphorous (the middle number in the analysis) like 8-12-4. Each time I fertilize the roses, I mix in Epsom salts—one-half cup for smaller shrubs, and a full cup for larger plants. Epsom salts contain magnesium and sulfur, and stimulate the rose shrubs to grow new wood. Rose flowers are produced on new wood, so Epsom salts help the plants make more flowers in each flowering cycle.
Roses have a flowering cycle of six to eight weeks, from the growth of new wood to the formation of buds and eventual flowering. In a normal season with two blooming cycles, I fertilize the roses each time new wood is forming, in May and again in early summer after the first flush is finished. The second feeding should be no later than the end of July to allow time for the second cycle to produce flowers and new wood to harden before frost. If you feed Epsom salts to your roses this year, try keeping track of the number of buds produced on one or more of your plants. You might see an increase in flowers. And don’t forget to save some of the Epsom salts for the bathtub!
Thanks for visiting with me at Making a Garden, and I’ll look for you next week.