If the muted greys and browns of winter have you down, beat the blues by forcing some cut branches into flower.
It’s easy, gets you outside, decorates your home, and gives you the pleasure of watching buds open and flowers unfurl.
All you need is a sharp pair of hand pruners and some spring-flowering tree and shrub branches to cut and bring indoors.
Fortunately, this is a great time to prune most deciduous trees and shrubs, so this is a twofer. You’re pruning your plants and gathering branches to force into bloom.
Branches are ripe for harvest in February. Plants have had the six weeks of dormancy they need and are starting to plump their buds in anticipation of spring.
And no, you’re not harming these trees and shrubs by cutting them. You’re just nudging their branches into flower a few weeks earlier.
Cut branches on a milder day when the buds are softer and better able to make the transition to warmer indoor temperatures.
Snip branches one- to two-feet long for forcing. Branches pencil-thick or thinner are best.
Look for branches loaded with flower buds. These are the fat, round ones. Leaf buds are smaller and pointed. When in doubt, slice a bud open. Do you see tiny leaves or flower parts?
Sorry, I couldn’t resist sneaking in a botany lesson.
As you’re cutting, remember your pruning basics. Make sharp cuts at an angle so water runs away from the cut. Prune out crossed branches or ones that grow inward.
Thin dense areas for air circulation. And step back often to make sure you’re creating a good shape and not cutting away more than a third of the plant.
Gather the branches you’ve cut and bring them inside. Recut the stems and put them in a bucket of warm water in a cooler room. Let them drink overnight, then arrange them in vases.
Some experts cut stems underwater, add floral preservative, or put stems directly into vases. Regardless of your technique, change the water at least weekly to keep bacteria at bay.
Place your finished design away from fireplaces and other heat sources. To mimic spring’s temperatures, display your branches in a cooler room out of direct sunlight.
But certainly, put some of your branches somewhere where you can have the pleasure of watching the buds pop open to reveal their spirit-lifting blooms.
Did I say blooms? You need not limit yourself to bold flowers. Pussy willows and other plants that form catkins – fuzzy or thin, dangling clusters of tiny flowers – look wonderful indoors.
Is it possible to walk by a vase of furry pussy willow catkins and not pet them? I think not.
Some spring-blooming trees and shrubs that force well are cherry, forsythia, redbud, quince, serviceberry, red maple, witch hazel, magnolia, crabapple, pear, and plum.
For catkins, take cuttings from beech, birch, filbert, and willow. If you want a longer show, cut branches every few weeks.
Make spring come early. Gather branches for forcing and enjoy the show.
By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.
This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media.