Late bloomers leave time for other tasks

Duane Campbell

Glancing out my study window as I write this, trees and shrubs that are normally beginning to flower now only have small buds just starting to swell. Even the forsythia is nothing but bare branches. (Update: I turned back to my keyboard for a moment, and when I looked again the forsythia had popped into bloom. Forsythias do that.)

There is one exception: a red flowering quince, in full bloom in my direct line of sight, but I cheated. I had it in a container, put it in the basement last fall and lied to it. I have several potted flowering shrubs, but most of them were in the outside cellarway, protected from the weather but getting news of what was going on outside, so they are still dallying.

Most people plant flowering shrubs in the landscape, and I do, too, but not right away. The landscape types buy them in five-gallon containers at a stiff price and plop them immediately in the ground where, this year at least, they sit bare stemmed.

I get them in gallon containers, smaller if I can, and pot them up. For the first two or three or four years, or until I kill them, I do the forcing thing. Left out until frost knocks the leaves off and convinces them to go into dormancy, they are then stored someplace where it is cold but not quite as cold as outside. An attached garage is perfect. Even in normal years they come into bloom weeks before those outside and I can move them into a room that needs some flowers. Or I can put them outside if the outside needs some flowers.

Every year or two I pot them up into larger containers. When they get too big to lug around, I plant them in the ground. This has the fringe benefit of taking a few years to figure out where to squeeze them in. I can put the pot someplace for the summer, observe it, move it, and after all this deliberation probably plant it in exactly the wrong spot.

I also pot up some bulbs in fall, usually about the time they drop to 75 percent off, just as they move the plastic Christmas trees in. Like everything else, my outside bulbs are late, the crocus and daffodils about a month, the tulips … I don't know yet how late they are going to be. But I have pots now in bloom on the back steps. After they flower and the foliage dies back, I plant them in the ground. The tulips usually don't do much, but daffodils and smaller bulbs are pretty reliable.

With most of my landscape sleeping late, and with time on my hands that would normally be occupied with the frenzy of April gardening, I could tackle a task too long postponed. Avoided. Moving some roses. These are roses grown in containers for a few seasons and then planted in the wrong place.

Roses are likely to survive the most inept transplanting, but that doesn't mean it is easy. It's not like most perennials where you just shove a spade in the ground and lift it up. Roses form a honkin' hunk of a root with fat roots running off it and very few little hairy roots.

First I cut back the canes to a foot or so. That is partly to balance the top with the now abbreviated root system. But mostly it is for my own protection. Then I uncover the hunk with a hand trowel, the same with the anchor roots, following them out as far as I can before cutting them. Even then the bush may fight coming out because of a heavy root going straight down. That has to be exposed also and cut. Then I can lift the plant and move it someplace that I will probably realize is still wrong a few years down the road.

Or maybe the few warmer days will cause spring to explode and I can find something better to do.

Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at 12 Burgess Drive, Towanda, PA 18848 or e-mail at

comments powered by Disqus