Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Extension Educator, Horticulture
January 29, 2010
This year, spring can come early to your home. How? Just snip some branches from your flowering shrubs, and force them into bloom, states David Robson, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, Springfield Center.
By now, many shrubs have flower buds that are formed and ready to bloom. There has been sufficient cold weather to break dormancy, and all the buds require to burst open is warmth and moisture. This procedure is quite simple. Anyone, even apartment dwellers, can succeed with this project.
Start by selecting branches loaded with flower buds. You can identify the flower buds because they are plumper and more round than leaf buds. When cutting, select branches that have curves or bends that will create interesting blooming arrangements. Do not worry about slanting cuts or shredded stems. Ordinary cuts work fine.
Submerge the branches overnight in a deep pail or tub of water, or wrap them in a damp cloth, and put them in a plastic bag for a few days. This moistening and soaking loosens the bud scales and helps them to readily fall away as the flowers expand.
After the moistening operation is completed, stand the branches in a pail of water in a place where you can control the temperature. Sixty to 70 degrees Fahrenheit is best for the developing flowers. Although the branches will force at higher temperatures, the color, size and keeping quality of the blooms will be reduced. For this reason, it is also best to keep the branches out of direct sun.
Generally, plants that normally bloom early are easiest to force indoors. Also, the closer to the natural bloom time you cut the branches, the faster they will open.
Try some things other than the old stand-bys of forsythia and pussy willow. Red maple has beautiful, red flowers. Catkins are flowers too, so try alder, birch or hazel. Foliage of some trees is spectacular when forced indoors. Try horse chestnut, birch or oak.
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.
Shadblow (Amelanchier) 1 week
Forsythia 1 week
Redbud 2 weeks
Pussy Willow 2 weeks
Privet (from an unpruned bush) 2 weeks
Spicebush 2 weeks
Magnolia 3 weeks
Deutzia 3 weeks
Flowering Almond 3 weeks
Honeysuckle 3 weeks
Bridal Wreath Spirea 4 weeks
January 5, 2010
The poinsettia is a plant that is native to Mexico, and has become the traditional potted plant at Christmas time. While many believe that the red, pink, or white color is the flower, it is actually called a bract. Bracts are colored leaves. The true flowers are there, but they aren't very showy.
Many of the improved varieties offered today last an amazingly long time. To keep them looking good and lasting, keep the room temperatures between 60-68 degrees (if possible) and with very high humidity. Temperatures over 75 are really hard on poinsettias, especially with low humidity. Try to place your poinsettia by a bright window just out of direct sunlight. Remove it from the window at night if there is a danger of chilling. Keep soil moisture at moderate and uniform levels, and never let the pot stand in water.
Reblooming poinsettias is a common goal, but bear in mind that this is one of the most difficult plants to succeed with. If you're a gambler, or a die-hard horticulturalist, here are the basic steps to improve your success.
After you are done displaying your poinsettia, gradually withhold water. The leaves should soon turn yellow and drop. Store the dried-off plant in a cool (meaning 50-60 degree), dry, dark, basement room until April or May. During this period, water lightly with just enough to keep the roots and stems from drying out too much.
When you bring the plant back up, prune stems to about six inches. Remove from the pot, take some old soil from the roots, then repot using a well-drained mixture. If there are several plants in the pot, separate and pot them individually. Use a pot that provides plenty of room. Water the plant well and place in a warm, sunny spot for renewed plant growth. You can put the plants outside when frost danger has passed, but be wary of direct sun in the hottest part of the day. You may have to repot the plant if it becomes rootbound. If you're into starting cuttings, you may have decent success by starting new plant from the shoots that appear on your old cut-back plant in the spring.
Keep the plant actively growing during the summer months by watering regularly and applying a complete liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks. As new shoots form, pinch them back so that two nodes (leaf pairs) remain on each. Stop pinching off shoots in August. Also, you may want to remove some of the weaker stems completely, allowing only a few of the stronger ones to develop. Control insects as they appear, and if plants become diseased they should be pitched.
Before cool weather in the fall, place the plant inside in a south window with full sun through the day. Watch the temperatures and moistures. Temperatures should be 60-65 during the day and 70-75 at night. Moisture should be moderate. Starting the last week of September, your plant should only be exposed to natural sunlight (this means no house lights after dark). Probably the best method is to put the plant in a closet overnight. Once the leaf color forms you can increase non-daylight light.
With these recommendations, and a little bit of luck, your poinsettia should be ready for the holiday season.