Forcing spring – the silver lining

A couple of weeks ago when I went out to cut back my grasses and do a little clean-up in my yard, I was greatly disappointed to find one of the larger branches on my Rhododendron had gotten broken off over the winter.  I’m not sure whether it was just the snow pack or if it had gotten stepped on, but whatever the case, it was a disappointment.  Under closer inspection I found that the flower buds of this branch were not dried out and in fact looked ready to open. Not wanting to waste the beauty of the blossoms and to help ease the pain of the awkward shape of what’s left of my Rhododendron, I invited the branch inside.  It happily accepted.

This lovely little branch now resides in my sunroom in a vase of water and some of it’s dismembered little friends are in a glass of water on my kitchen windowsill.  Within the past few days the buds have popped and I now have ruffled lavender blossoms brightening up my house.   The rest of the Rhododendrons outside have yet to bloom, so I will get to enjoy their splendor once the weather finally warms up a little more.

While I definitely don’t recommend running out and clipping branches off of Rhododendrons, especially because their growth habit does not respond well to pruning, I do recommend forcing branches.  If you would like to invite a little spring into your house, forcing branches is very simple to do.  You can force nearly any kind of spring blooming fruit tree, including apple, flowering crab, apricot, etc. The benefit of the fruit tree blossoms is that they have a lovely sweet scent as well.  Spring blooming shrubs, such as Forsythia, also respond well to forcing (but don’t have the scent).

When cutting branches, please be mindful of the long-term health of the tree or shrub.  Select a branch that with help the overall shape of the plant, not just one that would look pretty in your house for a couple of weeks.  Use a sharp bypass pruner* (not an anvil pruner**) and cut just above a node (the spot on the branch where it will naturally bud).  Make sure not to hack at or tear the bark as that will leave an opening for insects or diseases.  Clean cuts will heal over quickly to protect the plant.  After cutting, bring the branches inside and put them into a container with fresh water.  Change the water every few days to keep it from getting “funky” and within a few days to a week you should have blossoms filling your home.

Enjoy!

Kate

*Bypass pruners have 2 blades that pass each other like a scissors. Best used for live branches.

** Anvil pruners have 1 blade that chops against a metal or plastic plate.  Best used for dead branches.  Anvils will crush live stems.

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