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Flowering quince

Above, the flowering quince is one member of the rose family that deer avoid. Stock photo

By Kyrnan Harvey

Previously, I have suggested a good many options for plants that possess presence in the winter landscape, that can be fully relied on not to be browsed by deer, and that can thus be employed to establish the bones of a garden.

Come spring, what flowering shrubs likewise won’t be ruined by the unpredictable predations of the white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus? What can be planted, without worry, that is fully exposed to their perambulations at dawn and at dusk?

First off, let’s appreciate our native spicebush, Lindera benzoin, the swelling flower buds of which are most conspicuous in the sunlight of the first warm days of March. As true a harbinger of spring as snowdrops (truer actually, because snowdrops often open on warm days in the dead of winter), these are large shrubs that populate the understory of our woods and will seed themselves into your propitious beds and borders. Swallowtail butterfly larvae feed on their leaves, which turn bright yellow in fall, and the berries on female plants are an important food source for migratory birds. Scratch the stem or crush the leaves and you will know it’s a spicebush by the delightful scent of grapefruit.

Now let us praise forsythia, very common, and for good reason: they survive neglect, drought and shade. Their long arching stems root in, and thus spread, as their tips reach the soil. Prune them soon after flowering and leave them to themselves for the next 12 months. In other words, don’t let the landscapers buzz them in August. April 1 is when forsythia typically start flowering. In 2017 they were nearly two weeks late, as winter lasted right through March. Their ubiquity detracts from their appeal, but they should be utilized for their strong color in a still-gray landscape, for their durability in tough locations and for being … reliably deer proof.

Flowering with the forsythias are the PJM rhododendrons, precociously in shades of lavender-pink. Their leaves, mahogany-plum in winter, are aromatic when crushed and thus avoided by deer, unlike the glorious rhodies of May. I planted three in the late fall of 2015. One was promptly browsed, but not at all the last two years so I can, not without reservations, recommend them. Their shock of hot pink is surely a highlight of the year.

Grow flowering quince, Chaenomeles, in an obscure corner, in a location that is sunny but not prominent. The stunning flower colors — unusual tints of orange, watermelon-pink and peachy coral-pink — present such a jolt of pleasure that their messy tangled mass of stems can be forgiven. It will light up a forsaken location and a single cut spray will transform a room. Flowering quince (or Japanese quince, as distinguished from the quince used for jellies, Cydonia) is a classic subject for ikebana and a recurring motif in Asian art. I saw ‘Double-Take Orange’ and Double-Take Pink at Home Depot last April and ‘Cameo’ has been available at garden centers in recent years.

Lastly, for the purposes of this article on early spring flowering shrubs that are deer proof, or at least nearly so, there are the lilacs. They are all delightfully perfumed, of course. There are many varieties of the old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa vulgaris and S. × hyacinthiflora), flowering around Mother’s Day and for many a Proustian madeleine to their childhoods. Less well known, but also readily available, is the later flowering, smaller-leaved, broader-than-tall, S. meyeri ‘Palibin.’ It does not get gaunt and leggy, nor is it prone to mildew. This is truly one of the 10-best flowering shrubs to include in a garden, deer or no deer.

By mid-May the bridalwreath spirea, the Koreanspice viburnum and the Warminster broom are in full bloom and are assiduously avoided by deer. But there is a long winter ahead. In the meantime, email horticultural questions to kyrnanh@yahoo.com for possible inclusion in this column.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

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Flowering quince blooms before leaves appear. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

The gardening season is winding down. You’ve probably enjoyed your tomatoes and have started thinking about your herbs and how to preserve them for winter use (you can, of course, bring container grown herbs into the house in a sunny location).

So, it’s hard to think of spring flowers when we’re facing autumn’s mums and winter’s chill. However, it you want a gorgeous, early spring garden, there are certain things you must do now.

◆ Plant your spring flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils, etc.). They can actually be planted as long as the ground is not frozen.

Fothergilla is a slow grower. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Fothergilla is a slow grower. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Plant your spring flowering trees. These include dogwood, magnolia, flowering cherry, flowering crab apple and redbud.

◆ Plant shrubs that bloom in early spring. If you already have some in the ground, do not, I repeat, do not, prune them in late autumn. You will be removing next spring’s flower buds. Rule of thumb, prune flowering shrubs immediately after they have bloomed so as not to interfere with their bloom cycle.

Probably the earliest shrub to bloom in spring is witch hazel, with its delicate yellow flowers. In a mild winter it may even bloom in February, but March is more likely. Since it is blooming so early, the flowers come out long before the leaves. And, yes, this is the plant from which the astringent witch hazel is made.

Forsythia also blooms before the leaves appear with a mass of yellow flowers. You can even force the flowers in late winter if you see flower buds starting to form. Cut some branches, bring them indoors and put them in a vase with room temperature water. Soon, the vase will be filled with the cheery flowers. Forsythia plants make a great, easy to grow hedge. A fast grower, they can be cut back to make them the height you want.

Witch hazel with its yellow flowers is the earliest bloomer on Long Island. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Witch hazel with its yellow flowers is the earliest bloomer on Long Island. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Flowering quince produces gorgeous red, pink or orange flowers, again, before the leaves appear. The plant can easily reach up to six feet tall, but there are shorter cultivars. A native of China, it is usually grown here for its flowers, not its fruit. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Some varieties have thorns while others are thornless. Check the tag or research the cultivar if you either want (as a barrier) or don’t want (around kids) thorns.

The P.J.M. Rhododendron blooms in early spring, usually April, ahead of most rhodies, which tend to come out in May. The pinkish-purple blossoms are born on a relatively slow growing plant that reaches three to six feet in height. An evergreen, it does well in partial shade in hardiness zones 4 to 8. A row of them makes a lovely, relatively low hedge.

Pieris (andromeda) comes out quietly in spring. Most plants available have either white or pink flowers, but ‘Valentine’ has absolutely beautiful burgundy flowers. ‘Valentine’ blooms ahead of the other varieties, frequently before I’ve tidied up the garden in spring.

Fothergilla blooms with lovely white flowers. The slow-growing, deciduous shrub blooms in April to May after the leaves appear. The plant does well in zones 5 to 8.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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