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Village of AsharokenThe small but powerful Village of Asharoken

"A Change in the Weather—Indoors" by Joan G. Hauser          February 2009

Inside, I try to surround myself with flowers and growing green branches all year long. At this time of year, I'll stick almost anything into a vase filled with water just to see what will emerge to brighten my winter house.

On the first warmish day in mid-to-late February and on into March, venture into your yard, clippers in hand, in search of interesting branches to force.

...the closer to spring that a branch is brought inside, the less time it will take to burst into bloom.

If you're imaginative, you'll end up with an armful of sticks to carry inside. Cut the stems, taking time to enjoy the flash of green at their base as you snip the ends and fill several vases with them. Despite their seemingly dull appearance, you'll enjoy watching spring-like green leaves and blossoms as they sprout.

Beauty Bush, Kolkwitzia Amabilis
Beauty Bush
From my garden, I clip curly willow (Salix babylonica, var. pekinesis 'Tortuosa'), pussy willow (Salix spp.), honeysuckle, ivy, and naturally, some forsythia. The Cooperative Extension makes these recommendations for March: red maple (Acer rubrum), dogwood (Cornus spp.), Deutzia, beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis), Magnolia, mock orange (Philadelphus spp.), apple or crabapple (Malus spp.) and other fruit trees, Lilac (Syringa spp.), and Wisteria. If you have witch hazel (H. x intermedia) it may already be in bloom. Clip a few branches to bring inside. Skip the early hellebores (H. foetidus) because they are too smelly for your living room.

Choose the youngest and most vigorous branches. If you can't tell the difference between flower buds and leaf buds, cut a few open and look for flower parts. (That's if flowers are your primary objective. I am happy with anything green at the end of a cold winter.)
Witch Hazel
Witch Hazel
Prune small branches flush, using very sharp pruning shears. Some experts recommend immersing the branches in room temperature water overnight to help soften the buds and break their dormancy period. Mist the branches often the first few days to keep the buds from drying out.

Once you've put them in water, store the branches out of the direct sun until the leaves or flowers emerge. Keep the water in the vases fresh, re-cutting the stems with a sharp tool at an angle each time you change it. Setting the branches in a cool place will make bud development slower but give you better size and color. Of course, the closer to spring that a branch is brought inside, the less time it will take to burst into bloom.

As a serendipity, some of your branches may root. Willows usually do. To create a stockpile for gifts or planting, take the branches out of the water when the roots are 1/4" to 3/8" long and trim the tops to about 8". Pot each one in standard growing medium and store or plant outside when it's warm enough.