January’s dry, cold, sometimes cloudless weather means great star gazing; the night sky is illuminated with constellations that differ from those seen in the summer months. The silvery moon shines well into the early hours of the morning, and as the sun slowly rises, morning is layered with hues of crimson and orange. Frost sugar-coats the plants and expanses of lawn, while the trees and shrubs in the garden breathe quietly, restoring energy as they slumber.
Winter chill and the bones in the garden make many of us long for spring blooms and warm days. Forcing deciduous branches of flowering trees and shrubs into bloom is a perfect way to add a little springtime to your home.
Many ornamental trees and shrubs set their flower buds during the previous growing season and must experience a period of dormancy before they will open. After six to eight weeks of cold temperatures, buds usually will come out of dormancy. In our area, I have great success forcing a variety of shrubs and trees by the arrival of February, since most of the species suitable for forcing have experienced the required period of dormancy.
Winter is a good time to assess the structure and health of deciduous trees and shrubs; pruning for shape and removing crossing branches and old or diseased wood can be done on many species. The healthy smaller pruned branches can be put in water for beautiful indoor blooms.
Select young branches with numerous flower buds, which usually are larger and plumper than foliar buds. (When cutting fruit tree branches, choose those that have many spurs, or compressed fruiting branches. They are short, stubby, side stems that arise from the main stem and are common on pear, apple and cherry trees.) Choose branches from crowded areas of the plant when possible, since you will be removing some of the plant’s natural spring display.
Good pruning principles call for cutting about one-quarter inch above a side bud or branch so that no stub is left behind. Cut the branches between six to 18 inches in length; those at the longer end of this spectrum are easiest to use in floral displays.
Bring the branches indoors, then make a second cut on a slant just above the previous cut. If temperatures are below freezing when you cut the branches, completely immerse them in cool water for several hours or overnight. A large tub or basin may be helpful. This keeps the buds from bursting prematurely. If the weather is above freezing, there is no need for a soak.
Add warm water to no higher than three inches on the stems. Allow to stand for 20 to 30 minutes, then fill the container with additional water. Place the container in a cool (60- to 65-degrees Fahrenheit), partially shaded location. Maintain the water level. Finally, when the buds show color, move the branches to a lighted room, but don’t place them in direct sunlight. Be sure the arrangement has an ample water supply at all times. To prolong its beauty, place the arrangement in a cool location, away direct heat.
Many species are easy to force. Here is a list:
Bridal Wreath Spirea Small white flowers
Deutzia White or pink flowers
Flowering Quince Red or orange flowers
Forsythia Clear yellow flowers
Forsythia x intermedia
Lilac Fragrant Lilac, purple flowers in large clusters
Mock Orange Clusters of white, fragrant blooms
Redtwig Dogwood White flowers, brilliant red stems
Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ Golden to peach colored stems
Serviceberry Dainty white flowers
Willow Fuzzy small white buds with yellow stamens
Salix sp Long lasting in water
Witch Hazel Four yellow, strap-shaped petals
Cherry White or pink flowers in clusters
Crabapple White, pink or red flowers in clusters.
Malus sp Single-flowering species force more easily than double.
Magnolia Purplish-pink to magenta flowers
Pear White flowers in clusters
Redbud Small magenta pea-like flowers.
Cercis occidentalis Lovely branch structure
Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’