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.

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