A beautiful vase of flowers is a perfect remedy for chasing away the late winter blues. Traditional forcing bulbs, like amaryllis, paperwhites, and hyacinth may still be going strong, but they won’t last much longer. And all we really want is to see the light of spring at the end of winter’s tunnel. So how can you add the color and fragrance of flowers to your home without breaking the bank? Bring a bit of spring indoors by gathering branches of flowering trees and shrubs, and then forcing them to bloom inside the house.
The warming trend may offer us a chance. When temperatures rise above freezing in late winter, select and cut branches that are sporting some nice, fat buds. Cut a few more branches than you think you’ll need as some of them may not absorb as much water as they will need to open the buds. Using a very sharp pruning shear or knife, carefully split the cut end. Place the branches in a container of warm water and re-cut another inch from the base of the stem. This will help to prevent air from entering the stem through the cut end, blocking the intake of water. Remove any buds or twigs that will be under the water.
Place the containers in a cool room, changing the water every two or three days. And be patient as it may take a couple of weeks for the buds to open. Generally, the closer the plants are to their natural bloom time, the faster they will force. When the buds begin to show some color, move the containers into a spot where you can enjoy the show, but keep them out of direct sunlight.
Forsythia and pussy willow are really easy options for mid-winter forcing, but there are other choices. The bright golden blossoms of cornelian cherry dogwood and vernal witch hazel will brighten any room. If you are attracted to more subtle colors, try forcing filbert for its lovely soft green catkins or fothergilla for fragrant, creamy white bottlebrushes. You could also try ornamental pear, flowering quince and members of the cherry family, such as flowering almond or rose of China. And for a big pop of pink, sacrifice a couple of branches of your saucer magnolia or redbud.
Coincidentally, late winter is the best time to prune many deciduous trees and shrubs. So when Mother Nature offers us a day or two of clement weather, we jump at the chance to knock a few chores off the April garden-to-do list.
You might find that some rooting takes place during the forcing process. If you’d like to plant the branches, wait for the roots to grow at least 1/2 of an inch or so. Then remove them from the vase and trim the branch back so that 2 or 3 buds remain. Pot the stems up individually in containers filled with seed starting mix, being sure to keep the soil moist until permanent roots are formed. When the weather warms up, you can plant your baby shrubs in a protected spot.