Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials
by Charlie Nardozzi
In the dead of winter, it's hard to imagine the stage is already set for flowering trees and shrubs to burst into bloom. In fact, after six to eight weeks of 32° to 45° F outdoor temperatures (by January in most areas), trees and shrubs have met their dormancy requirements, and if the weather warms up, they'll start to grow and bloom. Depending on where you live though, you'll likely have to wait at least a month or two for real spring to arrive.
But if you're an impatient gardener who needs a fix of flowers to offset the drab colors of winter, you don't need to go to the florist -- just step outside. By pruning branches from many common deciduous trees and shrubs, you can create beautiful indoor bouquets to serve as harbingers of spring.
Most northern gardeners know about forcing branches of apple, cherry, forsythia, and plum trees and shrubs indoors, but numerous other kinds of branches can also be forced not only for their beautiful flowers but for their interesting young leaves. Japanese and red maples have colorful, delicate young leaves. Poplars and birch produce chenille-like catkins (scaly, often pendulous flowers) that make for unusual arrangements. To scent your room, you can even try forcing fragrant flowers such as lilacs or honeysuckle.
However, forcing is not as simple as wandering out in January and pruning every shrub or tree in sight. Most trees and shrubs force best when pruned about six weeks before their natural bloom time. This time may be shorter in warm-winter areas, in microclimates, or for individual trees.
Swelling of the buds is also an indicator for when to cut branches; check buds weekly starting in early January. In cold-winter areas such as USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 6, you can cut early-blooming shrubs such as cornelian cherry, forsythia, and vernal witch hazel starting in mid-January. Cut later-flowering trees and shrubs such as apple, dogwood, and magnolia between February and early March. In warm-winter areas, such as zones 7 and 8, forcing branches is not as popular because winters are short and many trees and shrubs naturally bloom early. However, to get a few weeks' jump on the season, in late January and early February you can cut branches of redbud and other trees that normally bloom in late February and March.