Congratulations – you’ve made it through January. Now, you can think spring.

Getting through January horticulturally significant, because it means that your trees and shrubs have been chilled enough that they think they have gone through winter and are ready to bloom.

Your duty now is to spare these plants the agonies of February and March by cutting branches and bringing them inside to bloom while it is still cold and snowy outside.

You can do this with any spring-blooming tree or shrub. I’ve read articles that recommend horse chestnut, honeysuckle, pussy willow, magnolia, lilac, spirea and flowering cherry as good candidates for forcing blooms.

The best and easiest candidate is probably forsythia. It blooms early in the season so it is easy to force. Its vibrant yellow brightens the spirit. The shrubs can stand a lot of pruning. And forsythia often looks better indoors than out.

Pick a sunny day when the outside temperature is above freezing, both for your comfort and the forsythia’s.

Use hand pruners to cut several stems about three feet in length, and bring those inside. Then cut about an inch off the bottom of the stems because even in the brief time it took for you to get inside, the stems will have sealed some. Cut a cross in the bottom of the stems so they suck up water more quickly and immediately put them into warm water.

Put the stems in a warm and bright area. You can change the water once if you want, but it is not required. Some websites recommend putting floral preservative in the water, but my wife Nancy and I have never bothered.

In two to eight weeks, the stems should begin to bloom. The blossoms will last about a week inside, and you can extend that time by moving them to a cooler area once blossoming begins.

If you want to extend the blossom even longer, go outside throughout February and cut more stems – of forsythia or other shrubs.

Sometimes, but not always, the forsythia branches will develop roots at the bottom. If that happens, after the blossoms have gone by and the roots have grown some, plant the stems – cutting off all but the bottom six inches – in a gallon pot of Pro Mix or other potting medium. Keep them in a sunny location, not too warm, and water them when the soil is dry. Once your outside soil is workable, you can put your new forsythia bush into the ground.

The easiest plant for creating new plants would be pussy willows, but I don’t find them as colorful as forsythia.


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