By late January most of the people from Kingston to Albany would enjoy a little bit of spring.
Sometimes we get a “January thaw” for a few days this month, with temperatures in the 50s or even 60, but apparently, not this year. Strangely (to me), some of the people who live in the Adirondacks seem to enjoy winter, for reasons I have never been able to fathom. The short days, much too cold mornings in single digits, followed by OK days in the 40s, followed by too cold again, with intermittent snow, rain or ice, and the mostly brown, unchanging landscape are starting to get old.
It certainly has not been a horrible winter so far, but the anticipation of spring is beginning to grow.
One way to get a glimpse of springtime is to “force” some spring flowering shrubs and trees to bloom for you, inside your house, now, in the middle of winter.
By mid January most spring flowering trees and shrubs have satisfied their chilling requirement which means the cold temperatures over the past three months have broken down a chemical inside the plants that helps to keep them dormant for the winter.
Once the plant has warmed up and begins to absorb water, it can bloom and even begin to grow. It will be months before this happens outside, but you can fool Mother Nature by making cuttings on some woody plants right now and within a few weeks they will burst into bloom indoors, or put out leaves. In either case, it is good to see something alive and growing.
Almost any spring flowering tree or shrub is a candidate for forcing, but some are easier than others. The yellow-flowered forsythia is perhaps the easiest plant to force into bloom, but others such as pussy willow, flowering quince, crabapple, cherry, flowering almond, shadbush and even lilac and rhododendrons or azalea may work. Forest or landscape trees such as red maple, birch, willow and even hickory can also be forced to grow new leaves, which are almost as attractive as those species that have conspicuous flowers.
The forcing process is really quite simple. Get out your pruning shears and find a spring flowering shrub or tree to make cuttings from. Look for branches with conspicuous flower buds on the twigs. Flower buds are usually rounder and fatter than the buds that will produce leaves.
The flower buds are very easily noticed on red maple or rhododendron by their size and shape. Many shrubs such as forsythia produce their flower buds on last season’s growth, so they will be located near the ends of the twigs. Others produce flower buds on two year old twigs so they will be located lower down on the twigs, beneath last year’s growth. Most fruit trees produce their flowers on short lateral branches called spurs that are often located a foot or more below the terminal buds.
Select twigs that about as thick as a pencil and make cuttings on these that are at least 18 inches long. Be careful not to make too many cuttings on any given plant or you will ruin the normal spring display. A forsythia will not miss a few branches, nor will a crabapple, but rhododendrons and azaleas should be pruned very lightly.
Soak the cut branches in lukewarm water overnight in a bathtub, washtub or sink, to fully moisten and warm up the wood. After the initial soak, cut an inch or so off the bottom of the twig. Next, place the branches in a pail of lukewarm water inside in a warm spot until the buds swell.
Once you can detect a hint of flower color in the buds, remove the twigs from the pail and arrange in a vase. Change the water every few days and put the vase in a bright, but cool, location.
Soon, in a week to three weeks, you will be enjoying the familiar flowers that normally arrive in April or May. When the flowers fade just discard the twigs and start over again. By the second time you “force,” it really will be close to spring!
Reach Bob Beyfuss at email@example.com.