Ask the Gardener: How to cut stress, overseed your lawn, and tame a forsythia

Ask the Expert Gardening Spring House Hunt
The best time to prune spring-blooming shrubs like forsythia is immediately after flowering so you don’t sacrifice next year’s buds.
The best time to prune spring-blooming shrubs like forsythia is immediately after flowering so you don’t sacrifice next year’s buds. adobe stock

Backyard gardening is one of the most relaxing ways to escape the emotional strain of confinement due to the coronavirus. Working outside liberates me mentally to a degree that often takes me by surprise. Fortunately, April is among the most uplifting months in the garden, as warm weather arrives, birds sing their loudest to establish territories, tree buds swell and open, and the earth turns greener each day. So get outside and grow something.

How about seeds? There is a vast selection online that can take you on a journey of the imagination, especially if you like to cook or arrange flowers. But you may face shipping delays and reduced inventory, because many people have the same idea. Locating popular seeds can be the horticultural equivalent of shopping for toilet paper. The same run on seeds happened when the stock market crashed in 2008.

You can now sow seeds for cold-tolerant peas and snap peas, spinach, carrots, radishes, parsnips, and turnips directly into outdoor beds that are not soggy. Wait until we have frost-free weather in May to plant bean, beet, and corn seeds in the garden, but you can start just about any other seed you want indoors now for transplanting into the garden in the frost-free weeks ahead: tomato, winter squash, pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, lettuce, eggplant, pepper, broccoli, cantaloupe, and watermelon. Bush beans and radishes are especially easy for beginners. Culinary herbs do well in containers if your garden is limited to a sunny balcony.


Q. When may I start overseeding? Do I rake up the dead grass first and loosen the soil?

C.R., Brookline

A. You can start in about a week to thicken up that patchy lawn by putting down more grass seed, but test for soggy soil by squeezing a fistful of earth from your yard. If it crumbles like chocolate cake when you release your grip, you can seed. If it remains a tight mudball, wait another week and try again. (Don’t try growing grass in areas that stay constantly damp.) Rake your lawn with a metal thatch rake with a straight edge to remove thatch and debris and loosen the soil to accept your seed. Use a seed spreader for large lawns or simply seed small spots by hand. The seeds will die if they dry out, so water lightly twice a day for the first four days after seeding, then more deeply every other day for five days.


Q. We have a large patch of forsythia bushes in our yard. We got blossoms only on the edges last year. Why?

S.B., Cambridge

A. Perhaps your forsythias are overgrown and need pruning to reinvigorate them. The best time to prune such spring-blooming shrubs is immediately after flowering so you don’t sacrifice next year’s buds. Although cheerful-looking, forsythia can become quite a thug if left unpruned. Cut back all arching branches that touch the ground, because they can sprout roots that grow into new shrubs — a neat trick! Also trim a quarter of the branches back to the base to rejuvenate the shrub, but feel free to cut the entire forsythia all the way back to 3 or 4 inches if it starts to take over your yard. Pruning is another great therapy for cabin fever. Contact the fire department for regulations before you burn brush and also check the length of your hose!

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