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Archive for Thursday, February 5, 2009

Force shrubs into bloom for earlier spring color

February 5, 2009

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The forsythia and quince will be blooming a little earlier this year at the Douglas County Extension Office. You will have to walk by the display gardens and actually come into the office to see the lovely bouquet, but I am hoping to have blooms in two to three weeks.

You can fool your shrubs into blooming by cutting branches and bringing them inside in the next few weeks. It will give you a jump-start on spring, and if we have another late flower bud-killing frost, you will be extra glad for the bit of color.

Forsythia, flowering quince and pussy willow are the easiest shrubs to force into bloom. More adventurous gardeners might try using stems of alders, horsechestnut, Japanese maple or other spring flowering trees and shrubs. This is my first time to try this, so I am starting with the easier, almost sure-thing choices.

The collection process is important to the success of this project. As you cut stems from the shrub or tree, place the cut ends into a bucket of water. (For a lot of reasons, this is best done when temperatures are above freezing. Trust me.)

The fresh-cut branches should then be soaked in warm water to keep the buds from drying out. A bathtub or sink is fine, depending on the length of the branches. Remember that the branches need to go into a vase, so keeping stems to less than 3 feet will help with balance.

After the branches soak for several hours, place them in a vase with floral preservative in a bright window. To increase humidity (again to keep the buds from drying out), you may need to drape a clear bag over the stems. Use a clear plastic dry cleaner’s bag or a painting drop cloth to hold in moisture.

Floral preservative is important because it prevents bacterial growth in the water and provides nutrients for the cut stems. Pre-packaged preservatives work better than homemade mixes, and most local florists keep the packets in stock. If you really want to make your own preservative, mix 1 tablespoon of Listerine mouthwash with 1 gallon of water.

Remove the plastic when the buds open. Most spring-blooming trees and shrubs that are forced into bloom in this manner will flower within three weeks of collection, and the blooms will last about a week.

I am looking forward to the bright yellow and pink blossoms that will remind me that spring is almost here.

— Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent–Horticulture for K-State Research and Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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