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Garden inspirations: Winter’s blooming branches

By Kristi Hendricks - Garden Inspirations | Mar 12, 2021

We’ve seen our fair share of winter weather, just as Punxsutawney Phil predicted when he saw his Pennsylvanian shadow earlier this year. And we may still experience more before the arrival of spring. If you can’t wait for the gardening hustle-and-bustle to begin, here’s the solution to your condition: force branches to bloom inside.

This is a fun activity for both children and adults that requires little more than a spin around the landscape for collection — that is, if you have planned ahead for this late winter activity to bring color into your home from the garden.

All you need is a spring-flowering tree or shrub and a pair of hand pruners. No special gardening expertise is required. You’ll want to select non-essential branches for this exercise so you don’t end up with a lopsided shrub come springtime.

Not all branches take the same amount of time to blossom when forced to bloom indoors. As spring draws nearer, even less time may be required. In a milder winter, some buds may already be blooming outside further south, like those of the lovely winter jasmine.

Some of the favored plants for bloom forcing are forsythia, red bud, witch hazel, quince and magnolia. But buckeye, flowering dogwood, wisteria and the spicebush are also alternative favorites. Try out a new plant each year, and keep notes on their performance and beauty.

Follow these easy steps for enjoying the view and scent of springtime blossoms on your mantelpiece or countertop. Allow for at least six weeks of outdoor chilling temperatures in the landscape. Select a day for your collection that is above freezing to help ease the transition for the branch from the backyard to inside your cozy home.

Select branches in a crowded section and towards the back of the plant. Cut on the diagonal at least one foot long, on plant branches with a lot of small buds.

Bruise the cut ends with a hand tool, so that the branch will soak up water quickly. Set the branch in a vase of warm water for a few hours or overnight.

Place the vase in indirect but bright light in a cool spot, and mist away. Change the water often. Once blooms appear, display in an area that will show off the blooming branches to their best advantage. Cool temperatures away from radiating heat will keep the flowering branch looking lovely longer.

The time it takes to force branches to bloom indoors can range from one-to-eight weeks, depending on the species of shrub or tree and how close the plant was to blooming naturally in the garden. Want more showy shrubs for your Shepherdstown landscape that feed the birds and butterflies and offer fragrance to boot? Then check out the showy snowball viburnum, fragrant sweetshrub (Carolina allspice) and the native fringe tree, all solid performers in this {span}U.S. Department of Agriculture{/span} cold hardiness zone.

Kristi Hendricks is a graduate of Shepherd College and West Virginia University and a Master Gardener with the Virginia Cooperative Extension. After living in Virginia for a number of years, she has returned to her native Jefferson County. She can be reached at belowthejames@yahoo.com.