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Q. We have a forsythia bush that for the past three or four years has bloomed between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Is this a normal thing considering the warmer weather we have had over the past few years? If we trim the bush now, will it still bloom in the spring? Thanks. – Nancy Folger

A. It’s fairly common for some plants to jump the gun and bloom in the fall, especially if the weather is unusual. Parts of Indiana experienced a drought this fall that sent some plants into early dormancy. The plants then were tricked into blooming during a warm spell in late fall or early winter. In addition, some plants that receive reflected heat and light, such as those against a southern face of the house, will be more prone to break dormancy at odd times. Most spring-flowering shrubs have a requirement for a certain number of chilling hours in order to bloom, and the cool weather that followed the drought satisfied the requirement for plants like forsythia that don’t require many chilling units.

Unfortunately, the buds that bloom prematurely will not be available to bloom next spring. Fortunately, usually only some of the buds burst early, so some flowering may still take place next year. And this doesn’t usually damage the plant long-term. It only reduces next spring’s flowering. There’s little you can do to change the situation.

Spring-flowering shrubs should be pruned immediately after flowering. Forsythias bloom on old wood, which means their buds are already set for spring. Any pruning you do now will remove next spring’s flowers.

Q. I have some garlic bulbs that I didn’t get planted in late October/early November as I had planned. It is too late to plant them? We are in southeast Indiana and just starting to consistently get freezing temps at night. Will the garlic bulbs rot?

I had heard that the goal is to get some root growth but no other growth until spring. I know I could plant them in early spring, but won’t they dry out before then? Should I store then in the refrigerator? I have very fertile, well-drained soil ready for them in the garden. And, I do have a small greenhouse and plastic that I could put out in the garden if that will help. How can I keep these from going to waste? Also, how hard is it to start garlic from seed? – Angie Martz

A. Plant them immediately if the ground has not frozen. Plant garlic cloves three to five inches apart in an upright position in the row, one-half to one inch deep. Allow 18 to 30 inches between the rows. Do not divide the bulbs into cloves until you are ready to plant, because early separation results in decreased yields.

Garlic for planting should be purchased from a reliable garden center or mail-order catalog. Storage temperature of the dormant garlic affects the bulbing of the future plants. Temperatures above 77 F may inhibit bulb formation, so using garlic from the grocery is ill-advised for planting purposes. Garlic that has been stored at about 40 F for several months is ideal for starting a new planting.

Garlic can adapt to a wide range of soil types, but it must have a well-drained soil. Garlic can be planted in either fall or early spring. Bulb formation is optimum when days are getting longer in late spring. Generally, most gardeners find it easier to get the garlic planted in fall, since early spring soils are usually too wet for planting.

A light application of fertilizer, such as one-half pound of 12-12-12 fertilizer per 100 square feet, should be adequate for most soils. Work the fertilizer into the top 4-5 inches of soil.

If the ground has frozen, store garlic for planting stock at room temperature and 60 percent to 70 percent relative humidity.

Some garlic types produce bulbils, which are collected from the flowers. Each bulbil will develop into a bulb. Bulbils are best started in nursery flats in late winter and then planted outside once leaf growth is present. Propagating from bulbs generally produces lower yields and may take two to three years to produce full-size bulbs.

Q. Could you tell me how or what the secret is to starting white pines from seed, and am I wrong in assuming that those little single-winged things inside the petals of the pinecone are the seeds? – Phil White

A. You’re right, those are the seeds. They have a wing to help them be carried by the wind so the seed can be dispersed over a wide area.
White pines can be grown indoors from seed. Cones that float in linseed oil are considered ripe. Cones should be collected from trees having superior growth and form. You must stratify (a process of providing moist chilling) the seeds by packing them in moist sand or vermiculite and storing at 40° F for 60 days. Plant the stratified seeds in potting mix and provide bright light and regular moisture. With proper care, the seedlings may grow 12 inches in two years, and the trees can then be planted outdoors.


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