Bring Branches in and Force Spring a Little Bit Early

| 2/24/2009 4:57:35 PM

Cindy MurphyA string of sunny days the first week in February had me itching to start working in my gardens. But with only two days with temperatures above freezing and everything still covered in snow, there was little gardening work to be done. I sat on the back porch with my chin in my hand, pondering what I could do to relieve my gardening itch. Then it hit me – though it was still winter outside and spring seemed far away, I could have it come early inside the house.

The pussy-willow in the ravine already had nice, big fat buds – perfect for bringing indoors to force. Pussy-willows (or any Salix species) and forsythia are natural choices for forcing; they will bloom indoors so easily it’s nearly foolproof. The only effort involved is cutting branches after they’ve gone through a sufficient period of dormancy – generally anytime after January is acceptable – and putting them in a vase of water. They’ll not only bloom, but often grow roots as well. With a little more effort though, the branches of nearly any dormant deciduous tree or shrub can be forced indoors.

Pondering what to do in the snow

Species such as magnolia, flowering quince, American spice bush, flowering dogwood, redbud, crabapple, vernal witch hazel, and lilac are just a handful of flowering trees and shrubs that make good candidates for early indoor blooming. But don’t discount non-flowering species either. Birch and willow provide catkins, and their slender branches make a graceful arrangement. Shrubs with variegated leaves have interest, as do those with dark leaves such as sand cherry or purple-leafed plum. Even those that just leaf out a bright green will brighten any room during the late days of winter.

I’ve been tempted to force branches from my fothergilla; I like the fluffy white, early flowers that Keith calls “bunny tails.” But the shrub is slow growing, and cutting branches to force would have ruined its structure aesthetically. It’s important when cutting branches for forcing not to go hog wild. Cuttings suitable for forcing should be at least a foot long, and consideration should be taken if removal of such branches would disfigure the tree or shrub’s overall appearance.


Cindy Murphy
3/6/2009 5:35:35 PM

Yep - there are different types of begonias; tuberous and fiberous are only a couple. Fiberous begonias are also called wax begonias. Dimissing them in the past in favor of more flashy, new and exciting bedding plants, I started planting them a few years ago. I got frustrated with those flashy exciting plants withering and looking anything but exciting once the typical droughts of July and August set in, preceded of course, by the feeding frenzy of Japanese beetles. There's a reason they've been around forever and are old-fashioned favorites - nothing bothers them...except frost and too much water. Annuals, they don't like the cold weather at all; if you buy them before your typical last frost date, keep them in the flats and move inside an unheated garage if freezing weather, or frost is predicted. They'll turn to mush otherwise. Same with too much water; you'll end up with snotty-runny begonias. Yuck. Even Grandma would turn her nose up at such things. Sixty degrees and sunny here too today, Dave! (The high temperature was in the teens earlier this week!) My youngest daughter and I went to the beach when she got out of school. No, no - it's not time for sunbathing yet; no sense in rushing the season. We collected buckets of zebra mussel shells.....for another gardening project.

Nebraska Dave
3/6/2009 8:52:38 AM

Cindy, I thought Begonias had a familiar ring to it. I tried to overplant the dreaded front door weed patch with begonias one year. No one told me that a Begonia is not just a Begonia. As it seems with the flower kingdom there are always different kinds of each plant. I think the Begonia I tried to overplant with was the tuberous Begonia which resulted in a viney growth crawling over parts of the bare dirt. Now after reading your advice and doing a little research, I find that tuberous Begonias do best in hanging plant baskets which allow the vines to hang down over the sides. As with all plants, there are hybrid Begonias which by your comment about finding the kind Grandma used to grow rules out those as being the best to grow. This brings me to the fibrous Begonias which from what I have read are best suited for outside flower beds as well as container planting. I am actually getting excited about Begonias. From what I read Begonias don’t tolerate cold too well either. We always seem to get that last frost some where in the first half of May. Real gardeners, which I am slowly heading toward, have ways of covering or moving plants to warm places to keep them from succumbing to old Jack Frost’s wintery breath. Yard clean up usually begins here in the latter part of March. An occasional snow will happen in April, but it usually is wet sloppy and lasts only until the next day. We just had another couple 60 degree days so all the snow that fell last week has melted and we are left once again with the ugly bare-tree brown landscape. I am so ready for Spring to pop. This time of the year I like to cruise through the local nurseries and look at all the wonderful plants and smell all the wonderful Spring smells.

Cindy Murphy
3/4/2009 6:45:02 PM

I definitely agree, Dave - there are much better ways to spend time than on money and its management. Worthwhile endeavors such as helping in disaster areas, (very cool - kudos to you!), or even the simple pleasures of listening to bird songs, smelling a spring rain, and feeling the soil with the warm sun at your back, is well worth the time spent. Oh, and coffee...sipping coffee while watching the sun rise, waking up the world outside the door is a morning pleasure that beats pouring over the Wall Street Journal in my book any day. I've never had farm coffee, but I do make a mean pot of "sludge".

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