Friday, February 10, 2006

Forcing spring branches

Now is the ideal time for bringing bare branches of spring flowering shrubs and trees into the house and watching as leaves and flowers gradually unfurl. The flowers and leaves on shrubs and trees are formed during the autumn and then need a period of cold weather - usually about 6 weeks - before their dormancy can be broken by bringing them into the warmth.

The longer that their cold period is, the quicker they will bloom inside - branches cut at the end of January may take several weeks - ones cut in March will probably bloom in a fortnight.

One of the easiest plants to force in this way is forsythia - I picked these this morning and already the buds are beginning to open up. I am putting them on a hall table with pots of blue hyacinths. The cooler the room the longer lasting the display.

Fruit trees are also great for forcing - my father prunes his peach tree about now and we gather up the prunings and pop the bare sticks into water - within a couple of weeks they are festooned with peach blossom.

Other suitable candidates are willow, pieris, horse chestnut, witchhazel and maples. Forcing is very easy - simply cut the branches and put them into tepid water - if the bud scales are hard e.g. willows then it can be worthwhile floating the entire branch in the bath to soften the scales but this isn't really necessary. Nature really takes care of it.

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