I am lucky; the little house on a big hill has had inside colorful blooms most of the winter. Cacti, violets, paperwhites, and the most gorgeous amaryllis that opened and produced seven huge flowers, have all kept this gardener happy through the last several weeks.
To keep the color coming as these blooms fade, I am going to follow a friend’s lead and force a few spring branches. This will be my first try and I picked forsythias. I could have chosen witch hazel, redbud or cherry blossoms, but I’m easing into this with the common but sunny yellow buds of forsythias.
Trimming a few branches from the shrub won’t do any harm; spring blooming shrubs set their buds in the fall. Through the winter, the buds have gone through the chilling process of being exposed to cold temperatures for several months, so now they are ready to be forced open.
This happens by tricking them into believing it is spring. Give yourself 12 to 24 inches of stems. Look for branches that have several buds. The flower buds will be fuller and rounder than leaf buds. Make a sharp-angled cut when removing the branches. Cutting on the angle will aid the stems in taking in the water needed to bloom. Once indoors, some gardeners crush the stems with the bottom of a glass or small hammer, and some cut a 2-inch slit into the stems; all of this is to make it easy for the water to get inside.
After preparing the bottom of the stems, place them in a tall vase, making sure it is stable and can handle the height and weight of the stems. Room temperature water will help ease the transition from outside to inside. Let the branches soak overnight away from furnace vents. Although the forsythias like and need sunshine to produce full flowers, they like the room temperature a bit cool.
It is good to change the water and give the branches a fresh cut after the first night, then continue changing it every several days to avoid bacteria build-up that might cause the bottom of the stems to rot. Forsythias buds should begin to open in a week or so and last for as long as two weeks. Other stems such as dogwood and cherry may take several weeks to open. Keep in mind when forcing, the closer to their natural bloom time in the garden, the quicker they will open inside your home.
If you don’t have the space to display 2-foot-tall branches, forcing spring bulbs such as hyacinths, grape hyacinths, or even daffodils and tulips might be the way to go. These bulbs also require the chilling process, but generally, if sold in the spring for forcing, they have been pre-chilled and are ready to force open.
In the past, I have had hyacinths and grape hyacinths in the spring. These bulbs don’t need to be planted in soil; they like to be started in water. In a shallow container, fill the bottom with pebbles. Then nestle the bulbs into the top of the rocks (the bulb should sit with at least two–thirds above the pebbles) and fill with water to barely cover the pebbles. With sunshine and water, these bulbs will open their blossoms in a few weeks.
I also have a nesting vase. It looks like an hourglass. One bulb sits in the top cup and water fills the bottom. As the bulb matures, the roots will grow into the bottom water-filled section, and the plant will grow and bloom on top. This is a sweet and compact way to add a shot of spring color to your indoors.
Spring is still several weeks away, but that does not mean we have to wait for spring blooms. Forcing spring branches and bulbs is easy. Snip a few branches and see what happens. You just might have spring blooms to enjoy indoors during the last cold, gray days of winter.