The last week of January means it is time to force the issue of an early spring. You can smell the fragrance and enjoy the color of an early spring this month at the Tacoma Home & Garden Show that runs Jan. 28-31. You can also force your own spring blooms by using the techniques below.
Sometimes it is nice to fool Mother Nature: Forcing cut branches or planted bulbs in the winter months is an easy way to trick Mother Nature into a premature burst of color. It is also a great antidote to spring fever as it forces one to get outdoors and up close and personal with plants.
Best plants for winter forcing: Early spring-blooming shrubs with woody stems such as forsythia, quince and flowering cherry and plum varieties are the easiest to force into bloom because their flower petals are already formed protected inside the hard shells of the branch buds. All they need is the key of warmth and sunlight to unlock the door to bright yellow, orange or soft pink blooms.
Harvest branches for forcing and shape the plant at the same time: Look for crossing, extra long or awkward branches on your forsythia, quince or witch hazel shrubs and harvest these for indoor forcing by cutting close to the mother branch or joint. Pruning always stimulates growth so the more branches you cut this year the more you will have next year. These cut branches are often called whips in the gardening world because they should be supple and flexible enough to whip about. If the branch is too thick to harvest easily with hand pruners, it is too thick to force indoors.
Give the cut branches water and warmth — then stand back for an explosion of blooms.
A deep vase or tall pitcher makes a good container for tall whips but you can also force shorter offshoots in a tall glass of water. Recut the stem at an angle and pound woody stems with a hammer to break up the bark and allow the cut branches to absorb more liquid. Use warm water and change the water every few days to keep it clean. Bright light but not direct sunlight will coax the buds to open in a few days and can last as long as two weeks if you keep the blooming display cool at night.
Don’t forget you can fool your bulbs: Snowdrops, crocus and dwarf daffodils can be forced into bloom this time of year simply by digging the bulb from the ground and placing It in a teacup half filled with pebbles, marbles or glass chips. Bring the uprooted bulb indoors but spray it with water often, or cover it with glass for a few hours every day to increase humidity.
The cup should be filled with just an inch of water below the bulb, never allowing the bulb itself to sit in dampness. The roots will seek out the water at the bottom of the cup, the bulb will be fooled into flowering indoors due to the warmer temps and you’ll be one up on Mother Nature.
The good news about forcing bulbs you borrow from the garden is that they can be replanted outdoors after they flower and placed with their foliage still attached back into their original planting hole.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
Jan. 28-31: At the Tacoma Home & Garden Show at the Tacoma Dome. Marianne will speak every day of the show at 1 p.m. On Thursday and Saturday, her topic will be on “Great Plant Partners.” Friday and Sunday lectures will focus on “Italian Inspiration for Low Water Gardens.” Some members of the audience will win tickets to the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. otshows.com/ths