Stop weeds now, plus more on how forsythia rules our gardens

forsythia in bloom
Forsythia, a shrub with pretty yellow flowers, is one of the earliest spring bloomers, so it’s a harbinger of spring.  Photo courtesy Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Wait until the forsythia blooms.

That’s a rule of thumb for many gardening tasks in Western New York. For example, you shouldn’t prune your roses until you see forsythia blooming in your neighborhood, according to this tip from the the Western New York Rose Society.

The forsythias are blooming now, or will bloom soon, in Western New York.

“This is when the soil is warming up and things are popping up outside,” said David Clark, CNLP, who was honored as the Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional (CNLP) of the Year in 2023.

Here are some things you can do in your garden around the time that the forsythias bloom.

Stop weeds before they emerge

If you don’t like pulling weeds, you may want to use corn gluten meal in your garden to stop weeds from even popping up.

Corn gluten meal is a pre-emergent herbicide. It acts on seeds at the germination stage, so the plant doesn’t even emerge from the ground. Corn gluten meal is organic; there are synthetic pre-emergent herbicides, too.

Timing is critical. You must use the pre-emergent herbicide just before the forsythias bloom or while they are in bloom.

Find out more pre-emergent herbicides in this previous article with John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County.

One plant that annoys many gardeners is crabgrass, Clark said. It’s an annual grass that sets seeds in August and germinates around now. If you use a pre-emergent herbicide, it should stop most of the seeds from germinating. Do that a few years in row, and you could get rid of crabgrass.

Cut branches to enjoy inside

pussy willow with pollen on catkin
If you see yellow on the catkin of the pussy willow, don’t display it inside your house. The pollen will get all over the place. Photo courtesy David Clark

Forsythias are already in bloom, and you can cut branches off and place them in a vase of water. Clark cuts branches (or whips) that are four to five feet long and places them in a heavy glass vase with water.

“Sometimes the branches go up to the ceiling,” he said. “I say, ‘go big or go home.’ It makes such a statement.”

When cutting the branches, “Use really sharp pruners,” Clark said, “and spray the pruners with alcohol so you’re not spreading diseases. That’s very important.”

He also recommends using a professional flower preservative in the water, just as you would for a flower arrangement. “It makes a huge difference,” he said.

The pussy willow is another shrub that is cut around this time of year and taken inside. Clark suggests placing them in a vase with a couple inches of water. Leave the branches in the vase until the branches have sucked up all the water. When the vase is dry, allow the branches to dry in the vase.

After it’s dry, “you can have it for the entire year,” Clark said.

Tip: Try to cut the pussy willow when it is just opening. If it gets to the point where you see yellow on the catkins, there is pollen, and the pollen will fall all over your table.

Bonus tip: Plan your garden

Even if you’re starting from scratch, you can find some direction in our previous articles. Get ideas from past garden walks. Consider adding native plants. Grow some vegetables and herbs. See more topics here.

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