Watch (and Sniff) for Witch Hazels
Sniff as well as see your way through the woodlands and gardens. Sweetly fragrant Asian hybrid witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) are nearing the end of their bloom time -- yellow-flowered 'Arnold Promise', wine-red 'Diana', reddish-orange 'Jelena', pale yellow 'Pallida'.
Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica) is larger shrub (10 to 15 feet tall by 10 to15 feet wide at maturity) with mildly fragrant flowers with yellow, crinkly, strappy petals and reddish calyx. If you're lucky, you might see the last of the Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) blooms. These fragrant, sessile, mop head-like flower clusters also have crinkled, yellow petals and reddish brown calyx.
Force Your Own
Clip a few branches of flowering cherry, pear, forsythia, quince, or pussywillow to bring inside, put in warm water, and force for bloom. Also try apple, crabapple, redbud, dogwood, star and saucer magnolia, hawthorn, witch hazel, star magnolia, apple and crabapple, fothergilla, peach, plum, and lilac. Look for branches with plump buds. Cut the branch with bypass pruners or a sharp knife. Split the cut end 3 to 4 inches for better water absorption. Remove buds and twigs below vase rim. Place branches in warm water and recut stems to encourage water flow. Change water weekly and be patient. In 1 to 3 weeks, you'll be amazed at the beauties that unfold.
Look for Other Winter Bloomers
On a winter stroll through gardens, nature centers, and arboreta, keep an eye open for bright yellow flowering naked jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) on tips of cascading green stems. Look up and get close to enjoy the Persion parrotia (Parrotia persica) tree's small flowers -- red-tipped stamens that turn yellow.
Be Cautious Around Tree of Heaven
There's also a medical caution about tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). A tree surgeon clearing an area infested with tree of heaven developed mycocarditis -- an uncommon inflammation of the heart. Doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY reported this single case, noting other tree removal team members had chest pain and related symptoms.
Removing one tree from the yard or wood lot isn't likely to harm but experts recommend wearing gloves and avoiding the tree sap.
Gear Up For Winter Gardening
Pruning, weedy shrub and tree removal, and ripping out vines are typical mid-winter tasks. Wear sturdy gloves and, in general, avoid skin contact with woody plant saps. Take care and work mindfully. Without leaves as clues to plant identification, it's easy to miss
a poison ivy vine and root intertwined with English ivy.