}

January 17, 2011

FORCING EARLY BLOOMING BRANCHES

LARGE CONTAINERS OF FORCED BRANCHES ARE FREE, AND PROVIDE A FRESH HOPE OF SPRING, DURING THE DARKEST DAYS OF WINTER


It may only be the third week of January, but it is not too early to force branches ( if you happen to live in place where it is snow covered right now!). Even as a child, I would pick random branches from the woodland and garden to fill various glass caning jars and bottles in my bedroom, to see what I could force into bloom or leaf early. It was a ritual in my family to go out into the woods and pick pussy willows in long, 6 foot branches, every March 7th ( I don't know why). My dad would bring them into the cellar and place them in large crocks of warm water to force, since he believed that the catkins would turn more pink when forced in the dark. I cherish these memories, and I encourage any of you who have children to try forcing some branches with them this winter, it fosters an appreciation for nature, as well as a love of plants at an early age. Indoors, everything is closer and more intimate, and watching a bod open, even if what emerges is a leaf, is still magical to the young, and the young at heart.

 It may be too early to pick apple or  cherry branches, but some shrubs are just ready to prove to us the spring is on its way. I like to start with the Witch hazel, particularly branches from our massive Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' , which grows on the eastern side of our home between the greenhouse and the the house. 
START PICKING BRANCHES TO FORCE THIS WEEK

This is  a shrub that is ready to bloom right now, for in some years, it starts blooming in early February even with a full, deep snowcover. The buds are still tight and protected against our frigid air ( it was 2 deg. F this morning here in central Massachusetts), but after 24 hours in warm water, the bud began to open. Now, a week later, the rooms are fragrant with the fresh scent of Witch Hazel. Sometimes I pick very large branches, about 8 feet tall for parties in the Studio, but for the Primula Society meeting last weekend, I just picked a few 40 inch branches. They provide hope that winter will eventually end ( at least to those who want winter to end!).

A WEEK AGO, THE HAMAMELIS BUDS ONLY SHOWED HINTS OF COLOR, AS THEY WAIT FOR A JANUARY THAW, BUT ONCE BROUGHT INDOORS, THEY OPENED AT ROOM TEMPERATURE IN 6 DAYS

HAMAMELIS BLOOMS AGAINST ICICLES IN THE WINDOW

I remember forcing shrubs for the spring flower shows in Boston, and I learned alot about how to force more difficult types like Lilac and Rhododendron. We would bring rhododendrons and lilacs into the greenhouse, and wrap their buds in cotton balls and thread. The cotton would be misted with water daily, to keep the buds moist, as the heat was gradually raised.



CORNUS MAS, A NATIVE YELLOW SMALL FLOWERED DOGWOOD IS A VERY EARLY BLOOMER THAT FORCES QUICKLY INDOORS, IN JANUARY

The yellow branches of our native dogwood, CORNUS MAS, a native tree, looks virtually exotic when mixed with early spring flowers. Since this tree blooms in April, branches picked in February open within a week, just like Witch Hazel.

It is too early to force many of these more challenging branches, but if you want to start right now,  start with the easiest. Forsythia, Quince, willows and Witch Hazel.

In February, start forcing apples, cherries, Bradford Callory pears and other fruit trees.

In March, try Lilacs, Magnolias and Rhododendrons.

 AN IMAGE FROM LAST FEBRUARY, SHOWS OUR LARGEST WITCH HAZEL OPENING UP EVEN WHILE SNOW WAS STILL ON THE GROUND. I FIND IMAGES LIKE THIS, VERY  ENCOURAGING WHEN VIEWED IN JANUARY. NOTICE HOW BRIGHT THE SUNLIGHT LOOKS ALREADY? THIS IS ONLY A MONTH AWAY!


The old gardening books would advise that you pound the cut ends with a hammer, to crush the cells which would allow the branches to take up more water, but I find the an X cut on the bottom works even better. Try different branches, and see what joy can be found even in seemingly ordinary species ( some of my favorites are Red Maples and Oaks, or even Horse Chestnut which looks so tropical as the buds open.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for this post! I will be out this weekend stealing a few witch hazel branches from the garden. This sure is a winter that calls for early spring blooms in the house.

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