Forcing spring early from soon-to-bloom branches

  • Daffodils make a nice addition to a bouqet of trimmings from flowered shrubs that have been forced to bloom.

  • Forsythia, a flowering shrub, is a great candidate for forcing blooms. (123rf)

One of my favorite books to pull from the gardening bookshelf is “The Quotable Gardener,” a compendium of garden quotes edited by Charles Elliott. Elliott is an American writer who lives in London and gardens near the Welsh border.

As I re-read the quote, “Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts,” author unknown, it fits perfectly into how I always feel at this time of year.

I’m wondering if it’s too soon to start the late winter practice of cutting branches from many common deciduous trees or shrubs to force buds or blooms for indoor enjoyment?

Early spring flowering trees and shrubs form their flower buds in the fall before the plants go dormant.

The action I look for are the trees and shrubs that have met their winter dormancy and are ready to break out with swollen growth buds.

The most commonly forced branch is probably the pussy willow with its fuzzy buds.

Forsythia is one that I always prune for forcing. Flowering shrubs are easier to force than tree branches.

Look at your shrub critically and think of the process as being selective pruning. Choose branches from crowded areas.

Select healthy, young branches with numerous flower buds, which are usually larger and plumper than leaf buds.

Selected branches can also be chosen for the beauty of the leaf color rather than the flower.

The process is more involved than just cutting branches and putting them in a vase and expecting overnight results.

I follow the directions offered by the Purdue University Extension Service.

Cut about ¼-inch above a side bud or branch so that no stub is left behind. In other words, don’t cut in the middle of the branch.

Cut the branches 6 to 18 inches long. Longer branches are easiest to use in floral arrangements. Cut during the warmest part of the day, when buds have the most sap.

Bring the cut branches indoors, placing the stem ends immediately in water.

If branches are in a bucket, mist them frequently the first few days.

If possible, submerge the whole stems in water, such as in a bathtub, overnight. This allows buds and stems to quickly absorb water and begin to break dormancy.

The old recommendation was to smash the stem ends with a hammer to improve water uptake by the stems. That changed when it was realized that the smashing made the water dirtier and actually decreased the water uptake.

The more acceptable method is to make a vertical slit or two in the bottom of the stem, before placing in the water.

Place the stems in a container that will hold the branches upright and add 3 inches of warm water (110 degrees).

Keep branches in a cool area (60 to 65 degrees) that’s partially shaded.

Warmer temperatures cause the buds to develop too rapidly and not open properly.

Low humidity, which is common in our homes, also may cause buds to fall off. The water level should be kept at its original level and changed daily.

Misting will help keep the moisture level adequate.

Rooting may occur on the branches of some species; willow roots easily.

If the rooted branch is desired for a new plant, remove the branch from the water when the roots are up to 3 to 4 inches long.

The branches should be trimmed to approximately 6 to 8 inches, then pot individually and keep moist.

When warm weather arrives, the new plant can be planted outdoors with protection, or potted to a larger container and held over for a year.

Finally, when the buds show color, move the branches to a lighted room but not in direct sunlight.

Add a few tulips or daffodils and you will have a bouquet that is a true harbinger of spring.

Take a look around your landscape for plant material you would like to experiment with. I think I might try Russian sage this year.

— Reporter:

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