Spring may be closer than you think. And it will seem even sooner if you force stems snipped from garden shrubs into bloom or buy pots of daffodils, tulips and other flowers at floral shops or supermarkets.
Stems of many shrubs are easily coaxed to flower indoors when spring-like conditions -- warmth and moisture -- are provided to break their dormancy.
Plump flower and leaf buds already have formed on most shrubs. Stems easiest and quickest to flower are those taken from forsythia, quince, pussy willow, spicebush, flowering almond, saucer magnolia, spirea, honeysuckle and cornelian cherry. Those from cherry, peach, crab apple, red bud and other trees need more time, but their blossoms are well worth the wait.
The closer a plant is to its natural flowering time outdoors, the sooner its stems can be forced indoors. Forsythia, for example, may take two or three weeks to put out its golden bells on stems cut now, but much less time when the cuttings are taken in mid-March.
Mild days are best to gather the stems. Use sharp pruning shears to make clean, careful cuts just above a side bud or node that will not impair the natural symmetry of the plant.
Cut stems showing many flower buds -- usually are rounder and more plump than the leaf buds. Also cut them long enough (about 3 feet) to make a graceful array of blooms when displayed in containers.
After the cut materials are brought indoors, peel back some of the bark or slit open the cut ends so they can take up water more readily, then submerge them full-length in a tub of tepid water overnight. The overnight soaking will permit gradual thawing, which is important if the cuttings were taken in below-freezing temperatures.
The next day stand the stems cut-end down in a deep container of water at room temperature and place the container in a cool, humid place with moderate light for a day or two. This allows the cuttings to adjust slowly to room temperatures and prepare them for display.
* Use deep containers again to assure a continuous supply of moisture.
* Provide bright light but avoid direct sunlight, which can dry out the buds before they fully open.
* Should bud development seem slow, mist the stems occasionally with warm water. Also turn the arrangement around every other day to distribute light evenly.
* Stems often will develop roots and can be used to start new plants in the garden.