(This is part of a series of articles on plants native to our area. But why natives? Because each patch of habitat becomes part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for birds and other animals.)
If you drive down Route 1, you might see a shrub starting to bloom now, with white to light-pink flowers. This is one of our prettiest natives, the beach plum, prunus maritima.
Its native habitat is the dunes, where it grows to around 8 feet in dense thickets. It is salt-tolerant, and needs sandy, well-drained soil and full sun. It will grow inland, where it can get to 15 feet, but will not tolerate poorly-draining clay.
The flowers bloom white in small clusters, and when they are pollinated, usually by native wild bees, they get a pink tinge.
It has an interesting adaptation to living on the dunes: as sand covers its trunk, it grows more roots along the trunk, eventually producing a wide, spreading root system that is excellent in helping stabilize the dunes.
As a member of the cherry family, it has cherry-like fruit, which range from sour to fairly sweet. It makes delicious jam!
If you see beach plums growing, you’ll know you’re looking at an established, mature and healthy dune system, which is great!
Q: How do I prune my forsythia bush?
A: Forsythias can get big and messy! Their flowers are beautiful, but the bush usually isn’t. However, it’s easy to keep it in control, healthy and flowering nicely — just read on.
Forsythias, like all shrubs that bloom early in the year, bloom on the growth they grew in the previous year, called old growth. So, if you cut it back in September, you just cut off all of next year’s flowers. For all the early blooming shrubs (bridal wreath spirea, andromeda, quince, some azaleas and hydrangeas, lilac, mock orange and others), you need to finish cutting them back by June, at the latest.
You have a couple of options to keep the bush pretty and natural looking, but tidy. You can get right in there and cut back about a third of the oldest and woodiest stems right to the ground; this way it will put out fresh, new healthy growth. Another option is to cut back the stems to a bud that looks healthy, called “heading back,” which will reduce the overall size of the shrub.
Just getting the shears out and giving it a buzz cut will result in a lot of unhealthy stubs and an unnatural shape — not recommended.
With a little easy work, on a pretty day in spring, you can have the prettiest bush in your neighborhood!