Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bringing Blooms Indoors

This early-spring weather on the central coast has brought about a flurry of pruning activity.  With buds swelling and some beginning to burst, it occurred to me it's a good time to mention forcing branches.

My peach tree is kept in a formal fan-shape on the wall of my garage, which necessitates regular and fairly extensive pruning to keep it in order.  As I was completing late-winter pruning yesterday, I realized there were some pretty long shoots just laying on the ground, covered with swollen flower buds.  My thrifty mom would never have let this opportunity go to waste-- so, inspired by her, I brought them inside to bloom.

Many other fruiting trees and plants will be ripe for indoor blooms in flower arrangements as well-- besides the obvious apple, pear, peach and cherry trees.  There are many blooming shrubs that set their flower buds in the previous year (on "old wood") rather than on new growth.  Common examples are forsythia (yellow) and quince (usually salmon-pink). If you are lucky enough to have a pussy willow, you can bring inside a few of the prolific branches sporting their fuzzy buds, for an interesting non-floral accent in your arrangements.

Don't limit yourself to the usual choices.  Simply look around your landscape and neighborhood for those swollen buds on shrubs and trees, especially plants you are planning to prune anyway.  A couple years ago I pruned an Exbury azalea (variety unknown) about this time of year, long before its scheduled bloom.  Knowing the buds were set, I thought there was a chance... but suspected the bloom was too far off.  However the branches surprised me, blooming after a few weeks and lasting a few more.  Interestingly, the normal color for this plant is a melon-orange, but these emerged as a pale yellow.  Apparently the dark room and short season must have played a role. I enjoyed the cheerful branches anyway, in spite of the color.

There's much more thorough instructions and ideas on branch-forcing here.  Learn a little about it, then head outside with your (sterilized) shears in hand, and an eye toward creativity.  Spring branches will enliven your home and inspire you for the gardening months to come!

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