Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Harbingers of Spring.

My harbinger of spring has always been flowering branches, and access to those branches was very convenient when life was being lived in the Connecticut countryside. On our property there lived a quite substantial hedge of forsythia down by the road, giving me easy access when I wanted it. There is absolutely nothing like the first sight of buds on a branch to bring you out of the “snow fever funk” - with the promise of spring within your grasp and giving you the opportunity to create a little magic indoors. The yellow forsythia was just perfect set against the old plaster walls and wood beams, their warm glow and abundant tiny flowers seeming to warm the frost on the windows that surrounded us on 2 sides.

Life in the country seemed to be all about nature and forcing branches in early Spring was a way of life and something I always looked forward to. Of course, in my first year there I took it to another level, planting 500 daffodil bulbs in the Fall and 200 crocus, but that’s another story.

Living in California now I have access to Quince rather than Forsythia, but I still have the fever. Some things just never change, nor do you want them to.

Guidelines for Forcing Branches (courtesy of Marcia Passos Duffy).
Marcia is a freelance writer and the publisher and editor of The Heart of New England online magazine.

While forcing branches is simple to do, but there are a few guidelines for helping the process along:
1. Pick a day to cut branches when the temperature is above freezing. Forcing can be done as soon as the plant is out of dormancy. This may be as early as mid-January for forsythia and pussywillow. However, for the more difficult to force ornamentals (such as crabapple, apple and redbud) its best to wait until mid-March or longer.
2. With pruning shears or a sharp knife cut branches that have numerous flower buds (you can tell flower buds apart from leaf buds by the larger size of the flower bud). Cut the branches like you are pruning the tree or bush – don’t disfigure the ornamental (you want it to still look pretty when the time comes for it to truly bloom).

3. After you bring the branches inside, split open stem bottom with sharp scissors about 1 inch (if it’s a woody stem, gently mash the ends with a hammer). This will help the branches absorb water. You may also want to re-cut the bottoms a bit to ensure that air hasn’t blocked the cut end. Remove any buds or twigs that will be under water to prevent rot.

4. Place in a vase of warm (not hot!) water. Place in a cool location away from direct sunlight. Higher temperatures will cause the buds to develop rapidly, but you’ll sacrifice its size, color and quality. Branches need light for forcing, but not direct sunlight. Heat from direct sun is too intense, and often drying. Remember, they need springtime (not summer) conditions to bloom. You can also mist them occasionally to prevent drying. Add a floral preservative to help control bacteria. Change water 2-3 times a week.
5. Forsythia and Pussywillow generally take only 1 to 3 weeks to force. Flowering fruits like apple, crabapple and cherry can take up to 4 weeks. And lilacs can take 5.
6. Sometimes the buds are stubborn and take longer to open. And occasionally some buds don’t respond even to the tenderest loving care…but you can almost be certain you’ll be rewarded with bright green foliage for your efforts.
7. Once the blossoms are out, you can move the branches to a sunnier location. They’ll last longer if you keep them away from heat vents at night.

Barbara Ashfield

1 comment:

Karena said...

Thank you so much for the tips. I love the flowering bushes and trees in the Spring. We are all ready for it to come!