And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Forcing Branches into Bloom
The days are getting longer and what seemed almost balmy weather this past week turned our thoughts toward spring. Buds on trees and shrubs are beginning to swell ever so slightly, giving us our cue to bring in branches of earliest spring-blooming shrubs and trees to force them into even earlier blossom. Exotic Forsythia is the traditional shrub to bring into early flower, but there are early-blooming native plants with a more subtle beauty that we can force into even earlier bloom.
Native Plants to Force into Early Bloom
*American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) tawny golden catkins
*Pussywillow (Salix discolor) soft gray, fuzzy catkins
*Scarlet or Red Maple (Acer rubrum) tiny red flowers on silver branches
*Wild Gooseberry (Ribes missouriense) dangling pale yellow flowers
*Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp) white flowers on pewter bark
*Birch (Betula spp.) catkins
*Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) small yellow flower
*American Wild Plum (Prunus americana) fragrant white flowers
*Redbud (Cercis canadensis) tiny fuchsia flowers
Black Haw (Viburnum prunefolium) a little later blooming than the others with creamy-white flat cymes.
Cut the ends of the branches on a deep slant; then smash the stem end with a hammer to allow for more water absorption. Place them in deep vases filled with water, but keep out of direct sun until the buds show color. Keep the vases filled high with clean water; mist the branches daily to benefit them even further.
In a few days or weeks you will be rewarded with a marvelous preview of spring as the branches blossom. The Hazelnut will open in a few days; the Maple will bloom in less than a week, the latest, the Wild Plum, in three weeks, the others in between. Mix different kinds together or keep each variety separate. Cut new branches every week and you will have a continuous show until the shrubs start blooming outside.
If you are interested in rooting branches of shrubs, put them in water with branches of willow, or small pieces of the branches, which release a substance that acts as a rooting extract. (Michael Dirr, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Fourth Edition, Revised 1990)
American Hazelnut on 13 February 2008, the day I cut branches to bring inside for forcing. The catkins are formed the previous year and hang on all winter, making a pretty pattern against the snow.
Forced American Hazelnut and Pussy Willow on 18 February 2008, 5 days later.