No Waiting on Spring

Tips for Forcing Blooms Indoors

By Michael Leach

Buds are nature’s promise that spring is coming — eventually. Pussy willow catkins and plump star magnolia buds practically shout spring long before they bloom.

Butif you’re like me, waiting for spring seems interminable. Instead of mopingabout gloomy winter, take matters into your own hands and create a glimpse ofearly spring in the comfort of home. Sometimes I have forsythia andold-fashioned flowering quince from the garden to grace my table well beforethe Super Bowl.

Flowering quince blossoms emerge pink or white.

How?A big greenhouse? Magic? Nope. I “force” the buds into opening. Besides the liftsuch eye candy provides, snipping a few branches is an excuse to get into thegarden and do something.

Forcing is a simple process. For quickest results, let nature do some of the work. The later in winter you make cuts, the shorter the wait. I’m so impatient, the first cuts come just after New Year’s Day, preferably when temperatures are in the 40s or better 50s. This gets the juices going a bit. Depending what part of the Midwest you call home and local weather conditions, you may already have the earliest of flowering shrubs blooming their heads off. In that case, experiment with some of those that open later in spring.

Pussy willow symbolizes spring’s return.

Bringthe stems indoors, dip the cut ends into powdered alum to enhance water uptake,place them in a suitably sized container, and fill it with water. I leave mycuttings in the cool, dimly lit cellar for a couple of weeks until buds swelland hints of color appear. (I’ve also had success simply putting the cut stemsin a coolish bedroom.) This transition reduces chances of buds blasting intoshabby blobs, not blooms.

Lovely but short-lived star magnolia

Thenit’s off to the living quarters for the grand opening. Blossoms can last for aweek or so, depending on the type of plant. Star magnolias are the day liliesof woodies, but quince sometimes goes nearly two weeks. Such stems look fine ina container by themselves, or they’ll ad’d an artisan touch to one of thosebargain-priced clusters of florist flowers or pots of forced spring bulbs.

Forced forsythia blossoms make late winter more bearable.

Isuppose later flowering beauties, such as lilac and crabapple, can be forced.But I never have time to try. Long before getting around to these, nature providesbunches of daffodils, sprigs of hyacinths and of course forsythia and quince inthe garden. By then the grass is green, and occasionally a balmy south windwhispers of even better things to come. Such diversions — not to mention thelong gardening to-do list — keep me from expanding my forcing horizons.

Perhapsyou’ve tried tried some of the later flowers and want to share yourexperiences. Please do.

Mushrooms: Flowers of the Forest

Yes, some food foragers hunt for mushrooms to savor, but I seek out these “flowers of the forests” for other reasons — the thrill of the hunt, the chance to photograph their beauty and the puzzle of finding their ID.

I wasn’t always this way. My first introductions to mushrooms were through friends who invited me to go morel hunting in the spring. I tagged along but never seemed to have the eye or patience to spot the elusive honeycomb-capped delicacies on the woodland floor. I seemed to get too distracted by the wildflowers in bloom. By luck one fall, my soccer-loving son and I were hiking and spotted a puffball mushroom thinking the large orb was an abandoned soccer ball.

This fall, my indifference for the fungi world changed when another friend invited me to a mushroom workshop. Predictably, the audience kept asking the presenter if this one is edible or that one was poisonous. But each time, he would respond “I just like to hunt for them not eat them.” I thought “how bizarre” to be a mushroom expert but have no interest in their culinary value. After the talk, my friend and I headed to look over his impressive collection spread across a big table. There were striated shelf fungi, big puffballs and even dainty red-capped ones. We oohed and awed at their diversity in color, texture and form, all found throughout Ohio.

No surprise, I returned home with a new set of eyes.  I started looking for the more obvious mushrooms and fungi  – the bright-orange Chicken Mushrooms and patterned Turkey Tails. Then I noticed more obscure ones — oyster mushrooms up the side of a decaying tree and velvet foot mushrooms on a decaying log. I ordered a Midwest mushroom guide and borrowed a more comprehensive one from the library. Gradually, I started seeking out others on the underside of logs or on newly fallen dead trees. I even experimented with making mushroom spore prints to confirm IDs. Thankfully, we had a wet winter with many warmer days, which are ideal for winter mushrooms.

So, in the next few weeks, I encourage others to explore this amazing fungi world, especially as the woods thaw and before they’re covered with a layer of competing green growth. While I’m still a novice, I share the following images and resource links with hopes others might also discover these fascinating fungi. For the mycologists reading this, I welcome your help with the IDs. Happy hunting!

North American Mycological Society and listing of regional clubs

Ohio Mushroom Society

Mushroom Expert

Turkey Tails
Chicken Mushroom
Artist’s Conk
Tree Ears
Velvet Foot
Unknown
Black fungus
Mycena
Oyster Mushrooms
Cup Fungi?
Shelf Fungus
Elegant Polypore?

Garden Topics

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