Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Enjoy An Early Spring!

Above is a nice shot of 'Goldilocks' forsythia in bloom in late April out in the gardens. This variety only gets 3' tall is is a true harbinger of spring. Imagine the beauty of these blossoms inside your home in a couple weeks. Branch forcing of early spring blooming woodies is a good way to bring color and fragrance in to the home even before the snow melts. Consider that you might be doing some winter pruning on these types of woodies (see list at the bottom) and their stems can go right inside! See the article below for some information on branch forcing and its merits! Note the Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) below which also a candidate for this process.
Early spring-blooming trees and shrubs are wonderful outdoors as they light up our landscapes in April and May and let us know that warmer temperatures are on the way. The centuries-old art of “forcing” branches of these early bloomers to flower indoors is an easy way to enjoy this color earlier and chase away the winter doldrums. This forcing, or “gentle persuasion”, can be employed on most of our earliest-blooming plant material because flower buds were set the previous year. This technique, when employed properly, can create a wonderful sequence of colorful and frequently scented blooms that become a great indoor transition to true spring in our outdoor gardens. Crabapple (Malus) is below.
One of the most important things to remember about forcing these branches is that the closer you cut these branches to the normal flowering time for that plant, the greater your chance of success. Flower buds require a certain amount of chilling (several weeks of cold temperatures) before they break their winter dormancy. Traditionally, you are safe to start cutting samples after February 1. Forsythias and pussy willows are among the easiest to force. See the Forcing List below this article to see twenty plants that will force. The time frame until bloom will vary but all can be cut this time of year. Below is 'Butterflies' magnolia.
When you are ready to head outside to cut your branch samples, pick a mild day above freezing temperatures. Remember that these plants should have already experienced a lengthy chilling period and you should be cutting them within 6-8 weeks of their normal bloom time. No need to cut all samples at once as you can stagger your collection times to expand your display “time range” inside. Using sharp, clean tools, cut 12-24” samples that have rounded, fat flower buds. Younger branches tend to have more flower buds. The branches you remove should be those that you would normally prune as this time of year affords you the ability to see the branching structure without foliage thereby helping you make appropriate removal decisions. Remember not to take too much off of a single plant. Below to the left is beautybush (Kolkwitzia sp.).
After collecting your samples, bring them inside, re-cut the base of the stems under water and keep them in fresh water in a bright area out of indirect sunlight. Either mashing the end of the stems lightly with a hammer or making a 1” vertical slit at the base of the stem will help with water uptake. Any buds or side branches beneath the water level should be removed at this time as well. Make sure that the storage temperature of your samples at this point is between 55-65 degrees F and they are away from a heat source such as a heating vent. Forcing will typically take between one to six weeks and will become apparent as buds swell and begin too open, showing the faintest color. If branches are forced at too high of a temperature, the buds will develop too fast, sacrificing the size, color and quality of the blooms as well as the duration of the display.

Throughout the forcing process, the water should be changed daily or a floral preservative can be added to the water to help control bacteria. Spray or mist these stems twice daily to avoid the buds drying out. The intent is to duplicate the cool, moist conditions of spring to encourage these stems to bloom. Re-cut the stem bases every week and when the buds begin to emerge, bring the display into the desired location. Below is the 'Toba' hawthorn (Crataegus sp.).Branches can be transferred to a more ornamental vase but make sure that it is tall enough to support the branches. Weighing down the vase with marbles will help minimize the tendency for it to tip. These branches will bloom for about the same duration as they would outside; typically 2-10 days. To lengthen the display, bring your forced branches into cooler temperatures (40-60 degrees F) just during the nights and keep the display out of direct sunlight at all times. Remember to stagger your collection of various spring blooming trees and shrubs to create wonderful color throughout the last days of winter. Dreams of spring will be encouraged by this easy process and you may have some plants in your yard that can be gently persuaded to help with your transition out of a long Wisconsin winter! Lilac (Syringa sp.) below!
Some Forcing Options
Malus (apples and crabapples)
Aesculus (horse chestnut)
Amelanchier (serviceberry)
Cercis canadensis (redbud)
Chaenomeles (quince)
Cornus mas (corneliancherry dogwood)
Crataegus (hawthorn)
Duetzia (duetzia)
Forsythia (forsythia)
Fothergilla (fothergilla)
Hamamelis vernalis (vernal witchhazel)
Kolkwitzia (beautybush)
Magnolia (magnolia)
Philadelphus (mock orange)
Prunus (cherries, plums, flowering almonds)
Pyrus (pears)
Rhododendron (rhododendron)
Salix discolor (pussy willow)
Syringa (lilac)

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