Bringing Spring Indoors
It’s February and the clutches of winters still have hold. I can ignore the calendar and plan to usher in spring a month earlier by forcing branches of forsythia to bloom indoors. This is easy to do because there is a reprieve from deep snow and frigid temperatures, a gift I gladly take advantage of.
Wearing wellies, a heavy wool sweater and gloves, I locate my garden clippers and a plastic bucket and set out to gather forsythia for an early spring arrangement. My mission is easily accomplished thanks to the generosity of a nearby neighbor who has several forsythia bushes growing along a wooden split-rail fence. Pruning is good for the bushes, because left unpruned forsythias grow into unmanageable thickets with little flowering.
Cutting and forcing
The time to cut branches for forcing is when the buds are tight; these are tiny nubbins encased in scales. When you see the buds beginning to swell, that is a sign that the forsythia is preparing to awake from a winter slumber. Each shrub in different parts of the country has its own awakening time depending on the amount of sunlight it receives and how warm the temperatures have been and for how long.
When cutting branches, cut at a sharp angle. If you will not be putting them into water for several hours or a day or so, wrap them in plastic so they do not dry out. Store them in a cool place. Recut the stems before you begin forcing.
There are two methods for forcing branches to bloom indoors.
The cold method is to trim the branches back two to three feet in length. Place them in very cold water to rest for two days in a cool, dark room. At the end of that time, early in the day fill tall vases with cool water; recut and arrange your branches in the vases. Place them in a room at a very sunny window. Buds on the branches should open later the same day or the next day.
The warm method process is to place branches in water at a bath temperature, 90 to 110 degrees F. Wrap branches and container in plastic and place the container in a warm, dark room overnight. The warm temperature and humidity acts as a catalyst to promote the dry scales covering the flower buds to expand the dormant buds.
The no fuss forcing method is simply to place cut branches in a clean vase at a sunny window. Flowering will eventually occur depending on the time of the year that the branches were cut; an early cutting means buds may take up to two to three weeks to open; if cut late in winter and buds are swollen, blossoms may appear as early as a week flowering cutting.
Refresh the water in the vase a couple times a week. This is important because the forced branches lose a great amount of moisture as they develop.
Whatever method, your golden blossoms will slowly begin to open and will be transformed into flowering bouquets. Place them where you can readily see them to enjoy. I highly recommend a bedroom setting for them. At night when the sounds of howling wind blowing and whipping snow across the frozen ground you can feel smug as you glance at buds of gold calling forth spring.
Other shrubs to try forcing: pussy willow, flowering cherry, dogwood, crabapple, lilac and flowering quince.