Are you suffering from SAD (seasonal affective disorder)? Do you need some color in your life during these gloomy days? Well I have some good news! Instead of waiting for Spring to arrive, you can bring the spirit of Spring to your home by forcing various woody plant branches to bloom.
This satisfying winter activity will get you outdoors, add interest and life to your home, and teach you valuable lessons about plant life cycles. Watching your branches progress through the blooming stage in your home can be quite captivating and through this practice, you become more aware of your regions flora.
Forcing plants to bloom is like turning on the lights in the middle of good night's sleep. And if the temperature is adequate, you will be much more inclined to get out of that cozy bed. Tricking plants to wake up, or forcing them to bloom, requires similar tactics.
A majority of ornamental woody plants has already set their flower buds for the next growing season and they are now patiently waiting for their dormancy period to expire. Temperate plants require a dormant period of cold temperatures to perform well the following season.
Typically, six to eight weeks of temperatures below 40° F is needed. Similarly, herbaceous perennials need to be vernalized (cool temperature exposure) for them to flower, usually along with a dormant period.
To force woody plants to bloom indoors, we have to break the quiescence dormancy that is imposed by external environmental factors such cool temperatures and a shorter photoperiod.
The onset of short days in winter signals the photoreceptors in leaf tissue to begin the synthesis of various growth inhibiting compounds. Photoreceptors like phytochromes induce the synthesis and release of the plant hormone Abscisic acid, which is then translocated from the leaf to the bud where it decreases metabolic processes, allowing the plant to rest.
Abscisic acid concentrations are much higher in dormant buds than actively growing buds, indicating that ABA inhibits the synthesis of proteins, RNA and other metabolic processes that are prevalent in meristematic tissues of the plant body.
To further protect the meristematic tissue in flower and leaf buds, the buds develop bud scales of various forms that help insulate and protect the meristems from external conditions.
While this predictive dormancy period will vary depending on the plant you want to force to bloom and your geographic location, most species suitable for forcing have experienced the required period of dormancy usually by the time February arrives.
Coincidentally, late winter is the best time to prune deciduous trees and large shrubs. Removing dead wood, crossing branches, and establishing a main leader on your young deciduous tree are all good gardening practices that can be performed while sourcing branches for the indoors.
Pruning on a mild winter day will not only make the activity more pleasant, it will help the branches acclimate to indoor temperatures without shocking them. Once the maintenance pruning is completed, select branches for forcing that are less than 1/2 inch in diameter. Use proper pruning techniques by making a cut right above the node, which eliminates dead stubs and promotes lateral growth.
Collection and Preparation
•Although you can force plants like Forsythia to bloom as early as the beginning of January, cut branches for indoor use around the end of January and you can easily keep bringing them in as late as mid March.
•After bringing the branches inside, fill a sink with warm water. Cut the stems at a 45° under water to maximize the surface area of the vascular cambium and to allow the xylem to readily uptake water into the plant’s vascular system.
•Place cut stems in warm water (100-110 degrees). Store in warm light area and replace water weekly. Give the stems a fresh cut every time the water is changed.
•Commercial floral preservative can extend the bloom period by reducing bacterial growth in the water and improving hydration. You can substitute commercial floral preservative with 1 tbsp of Listerine or Lemon-Lime Soda per quart of water.
PLANTS FOR FORCING
Cornelian cherry ( Cornus mas )
Filberts – for catkins ( Corylus spp. and cvs.)
Forsythias ( Forsythia spp. and cvs.)
Fothergillas ( Fothergilla spp. and cvs.)
Witch hazels ( Hamamelis spp. and cvs.)
Late January/early February
Bradford pear ( Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’)
Cherries ( Prunus spp. and cvs.)
Mid- to late February
Beeches – for catkins (Fagus spp. and cvs.)
Birches – for catkins (Betula spp. and cvs.)
Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Lilacs (Syringa spp. and cvs.)
Magnolias (Magnolia spp. and cvs.)
PJM rhododendron (Rhododendron ‘PJM’)
Quinces (Chaenomeles spp. and cvs.)
Red maple (Acer rubrum)
Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp. and cvs.)
Willows – for catkins (Salix spp. and cvs.)