Although early February is usually a time of storms in the Baltimore area, there are a few mild days when the gardener may be lured out to make the rounds of his or her property.
During these rambles, it is not too early to take a pair of secateurs, or pruning shears, in hand and begin pruning fruit and flowering trees, ornamental bushes and the like.
This will not only get you off to a good start in the spring -- for even winter has a way of slipping away quickly in spite of snow, ice and cabin fever -- but also give you a chance to bring a little bit of spring color into the house as you go about your trimming.
You can cut long stems of forsythia, for example, with their plump flower buds (the leaf buds are smaller, as you can see by comparing a few branches). These can be induced to flower several weeks ahead of time, giving you a welcome foretaste of spring and adding fragrance and life to winter rooms and bouquets.
There are just a few simple rules to follow:
When you have selected as many stems as you wish and brought them inside, recut the stems at a slant 1 inch above the original cut. Peel back the bark about 1 inch and smash the end with a hammer: This helps the plant take up water more easily.
Place the branches immediately in fresh water. They should then be placed in a cool room (60-70 degrees) and misted daily to keep the bark soft and easy for the buds to open through. Change the water often and do not let it get cloudy.
When the buds begin to swell noticeably, you can transfer the branches to a vase and move it to a still cool, but well-lighted room. Keep them out of direct sun, however, for although additional warmth may speed blooming, it will be at the expense of bloom size and color.
About two or three weeks after being cut, the branches will blossom -- perhaps sooner if it is closer to their natural bloom time. They can then be placed in a vase to make a splendid bouquet by themselves or with other flowers.
Other woody plants that take well to forcing are Japanese quince, willows, pussy willow, kerria ("double globe flower"), magnolias, ornamental fruit trees such as crab apple, cherry and plum, witch hazel and even honeysuckle.
It is best to cut them no more than six weeks ahead of their normal bloom time to allow for sufficient bud development, but this will still allow for a steady procession of flowering stems and branches for indoor use through the most plant-deprived part of the year. (Plant deprivation, as we know, is a serious gardeners' malady during the winter, and if we wait too long for some relief, we are apt to go quite brazenly bonkers at regional flower shows and the like later on.)
Sometimes, when you go to remove the stems after they have finished flowering, you will find that the branches have begun to root. If you want more of these plants, replace the stems in fresh water until the roots are about a half-inch long. At that time, cut the top of the stem back to about 6 inches from the bottom, dip the bottom 2 inches in rooting hormone powder and put them in small pots of moistened plant-starting mix or potting soil.
From this point on, you can treat them like all rooted cuttings. Give them bright light, but no direct sun, in a coolish room (65 degrees). Keep them watered but not wet. In two to four weeks, they will begin to show new leaves.
It helps to give the new plants a small dose of water-soluble fertilizer. They can then be placed in a sunny window if you have one, and planted outside when danger of frost is past.
Pub Date: 2/02/97