With winter here, it's nice to have some outdoor garden activities that result in beautiful flowers. One activity I like is forcing flowering branches of spring blooming trees and shrubs indoors. Not only do you get beautiful color weeks before the natural bloom time, you prune your plants too.
When you prune crowded, broken, or damaged branches in winter, many stems you'll be cutting already have their flower buds set and ready to bloom. All they need is some warmth and water to open.
When forcing flowering branches, remember trees and shrubs vary in the length of cold weather they need before they'll bloom. Forsythia will bloom from branches cut in January, while rhododendrons bloom better if cut in March.
In general, the closer to the natural bloom time you force the branches, the quicker blooming and more uniform the flowers will be.
In February, try cutting early bloomers such as pussy willow, witch hazel, forsythia, Cornelian cherry, and fothergilla. In March, cut later bloomers such as lilacs, rhodis, crabapples, flowering pears, cherries, and quince, and redbuds.
When pruning, select branches at least half-an-inch in diameter to ensure they have flower buds. Cut branches at the desired length and bring them indoors. Place the stems in a basin filled with hot water and recut the stem ends under water. Arrange the stems in a vase and place them in a sunny, cool room, moving them to a warmer room to accelerate the process.
Mix early and later bloomers to have a continuous display and remember add a few fragrant stems of lilacs and daphne to perfume a room.
Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about flowering quince. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.