Many gardeners are busy pruning shrubs to remove winter damage, control the size or provide a bit of shaping before the season is well under way. Save some of the branches or cut a few from spring flowering shrubs to brighten your indoors. You’ll enjoy the added spring color provided by branches of forsythia, quince, pussy willows, and other spring flowering shrubs for bouquets and arrangements.
Use a pair of sharp bypass pruners with two sharp blades that cut like scissors. These make clean cuts allowing the wound to close quickly and reducing the risk of insects and diseases moving in. Start by removing crossing or winter damaged branches. This helps manage plant growth while harvesting some stems for your enjoyment. Look for stems at least 12 inches long with lots of flowers or buds to maximize flowering. Make cuts above a healthy outward bud, where a branch joins another branch or just above ground level.
Combine planned renewal pruning with a bit of indoor enjoyment. Remove a few of the older stems of forsythia, lilac and other multi-stemmed spring flowering shrubs back to ground level. This encourages new growth at the base of the plant. Cut the larger branches down to a useable size for your indoor enjoyment.
Then finish any needed pruning after the plants put on their spring display so they can form new flower buds next spring. Avoid severe pruning that can result in excess growth. Removing no more than one fourth of the total growth will result in more even growth. Repeat as needed for the next year or two to reduce the size and improve the beauty of overgrown plants.
Harvest stems for forcing on a sunny day or when temperatures are above freezing for better results. Don’t smash the stems as often recommended. Instead make one or more slits in a crosshatch or star pattern on the bottom of the stems before placing them in water immediately after cutting.
If possible, submerge the whole stems in a tub of water overnight. This encourages the stems and buds to absorb water and break dormancy. Set the stems in a bucket of cool water, about 60° to 65º F, in a bright but indirectly lit location after soaking overnight or immediately after pruning. Mist the stems as often as possible the first few days or place a plastic bag over the stems to boost humidity and prevent the buds from dropping. Change the water every two or three days making sure the cut ends of the stems are always in the water.
The buds should start swelling and flowers start to appear in several weeks. Cut the stems to the needed length and use them in flower arrangements. They look great mixed with spring flowering bulbs, greens and other spring flowers from your garden or florist. Or display them in a vase all on their own.
Continue cutting and forcing a variety of branches over time for continuous indoor bloom. Prolong their beauty by moving the flowering stems and flower arrangements to a cooler location at night.
Make notes on what worked well in spring arrangements to help you plan for next year. Whether you force them into bloom or harvest when in bloom, you will enjoy the added spring color indoors.
About Melinda Myers
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including “The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition” and “Small Space Gardening.” She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Summit for her expertise to write this article. Her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.