Want to bring springtime in a little earlier this year? Visit your flowering shrubs or trees some warm day late this month (January), and take a few branches. With very little trouble you can force many of them to bloom indoors, long ahead of their expected outdoor date. The cheerful blossoms are a wonderful remedy for late winter blues.
First, be sure to choose branches bearing flower buds. How does one recognize these? They are plumper than leaf buds. If you will take tweezers and a pin, prick the bud apart and look at it through a magnifying glass, perhaps you can see the tiny beginning of the flower there, snug inside the bud.
The flower branch appears as the more mature wood of the shrub or tree–one that has not grown too fast the previous season. It should be at least as thick as a pencil at the base, to contain enough nourishment to support the growth and flowers. Cut only what you need, for some must remain to bloom later outdoors. Leave the plant well shaped.
These kinds are easy to force: Forsythia, flowering (Japanese) quince, apricot, pussy willow and Magnolia. Wait a few weeks yet and then try apple, peach, flowering crab, lilac, cherry and plum. For fragrance, force the bush honeysuckle. For interesting young leaves, force twigs of horse chestnut, maple, or barberry.
Hammer the base of the stems until they are bruised and splintered. This seems hard, but it helps the stems to take up water essential to putting forth the growth you want. Then stand them uncrowded in deep containers of tepid water and set aside in basement or other out-of-the-way cool place. Check occasionally to be sure they have plenty of water.
When buds swell and begin to break, showing a little color, bring into your house and enjoy the spring preview. Usually about three weeks will be needed to force flowers on Forsythia, depending on conditions. After flowers are open and stems are ready to be used in arrangements, the battered ends may be removed.
These lend themselves ideally to arrangements, and can be combined with a wide variety of other material. Try, for example, an arrangement of flowering quince with pine, or work Forsythia into a cluster of pine cones with a few pine needles.
Houseplants in bloom offer another opportunity–try African violets or geraniums in combination with dainty apricot or plum branches, or pussy willow. Often you will find that flowers artificially forced this way display an unusual gentle coloring that is most pleasing.
Source: The WorkBasket Magazine, 1955