Extension Educator, Horticulture
Suddenly 40 degrees seems warm. Nothing brings on spring fever faster than a few sunny days in February. If you are like me, you are ready to see green buds on the trees -- NOW. We can't bring spring outside any sooner, but we can bring spring inside now.
Spring can come early inside your home by coaxing some branches from your flowering shrubs and trees into bloom.
Spring flowering trees and shrubs (those that flower before mid June) form their flower buds the autumn before flowering. The flower buds go through the winter and if they survive the cold spells, they will bloom in spring. There has been sufficient cold weather to break dormancy and the buds just require some warmth and moisture to open.
Normally these plants such as magnolia, crabapple, forsythia, flowering quince and lilac should be pruned immediately after the flowers fade in spring. If these plants are pruned during the dormant season, some of the flowers will be removed. Snipping just a few branches now will not hurt the shrub but keep in mind the shape of the shrub when cutting branches to force into bloom.
Start by selecting branches loaded with flower buds. Flower buds generally appear more plump and are more rounded than leaf buds but even the clean green of new leaves is a welcome sight. Rapidly growing vertical shoots on trees such as hawthorn, crabapple, and cherry are called watersprouts. They seldom flower or fruit.
Recut the stems in water and submerge the branches overnight in a deep pail or tub of water or wrap the entire branch in a damp cloth and put in a plastic bag for a few days. You may have to weigh the branches down so the branches are completely submerged. This soaking loosens the flower bud scales allowing them to readily fall away as the flowers expand. You may read about crushing the bottom inch of branch stem so the plant can take up more water but that is not really necessary.
After moistening the branches, stand them in a decorative container of water. The branches will force nicely in a room temperature around 65 degrees F. At higher temperatures the color, size and keeping quality of the blooms will be reduced. The branches will also last longer if they are kept out of direct sun.
Generally the trees and shrubs which normally bloom early in the season are the easiest to force indoors. Also the closer to the natural bloom time when the branches are cut the faster they will open.
The common plants for forcing indoors are forsythia and pussy willow. Many other plants can be forced. Red maple has beautiful red flowers.
The foliage of some trees such as birch and oak is spectacular when forced indoors.
The following chart will give you an idea of how long it takes to coax flowers on branches of trees and shrubs. Start some every two weeks for continuous displays until spring.
These look lovely with purchased daffodils or tulips. It's a sure cure for spring fever.
For another Breath of Spring come to our Garden Day 2005 on Saturday March 5 at the Holiday Inn in Urbana. Four great nationally known speakers: