Spring blossoms

On your schedule

While winter's chill lingers outdoors, bring springtime indoors. Rogue Valley gardeners can coax blooms from budded branches by changing their environment. This process, called "forcing," speeds maturation. So in weeks, instead of months, you can delight in glorious fresh flowers.

Start with healthy, woody branches, replete with flower buds (rounder and larger than leaf buds) getting ready to bloom in about six weeks. There are two methods for forcing blooms weeks earlier (see sidebar). Each begins with hydrating them. "Lukewarm, not hot water hydrates branches more quickly," says Mary Wadman, floral designer at Ashland's Enchanted Florist. "To keep stems moist, keep them out of drafty areas and direct sun. And you could mist them to help keep in moisture."

Tips from the expert

Carl Wilson, Horticulturist with Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver has two techniques for coaxing blooms.

1. Cut 12- to 24-inch long sections of one- to two-year-old branches (pencil-thick) with a sharp knife or pruning shears.

2. Fill a deep container (storage tote or clean trash can) with room temperature water and submerge branches overnight. The next morning, snip the branch ends again, then, cut two- to three-inch long slits up the base of the branches.

3. Place them in water in an attractive vase, in the brightest, sunniest spot in your home, but away from direct sun and drafts. In a few weeks, they should bloom.

Or… if it doesn't work, clip some more branches and try this technique. You'll need newspaper, a paring knife and a hammer.

1. Start with healthy branches. Use a paring or utility knife to remove a few inches of bark and any greenery from the lowest (and soon to be submerged) parts of the branch. If woody ends are difficult to cut, smash them with a hammer to encourage water absorption.

2. Give branches a long, lukewarm shower. Wrap them in damp newspaper; place in a container filled with lukewarm water. Set the ensemble in the back of closet, garage or other dark, cool area.

3. Each of the next three days, mist the newspaper covered branches to keep them hydrated, and change the water. After three days, the blooms should start to emerge. As they do, unwrap the branches and arrange in tall vases or urns.

"Prune branches of forsythia, witch hazel and viburnums, like 'Pink Dawn' now," says Dieter Trost, owner of Medford's Southern Oregon Nursery. Group branches of similar tones, like creams or pinks for a stunning arrangement. Early blooming pink forsythia look-alike Abeliophyllus distichum 'Roseum' bears pink flowers on deep burgundy stems.

For something less traditional, try a branch of Morus 'Nuclear Blast.' Trost says this dwarf mulberry, growing just 2 to 3 feet, reminds people of a "bad hair day." Its long, green, tentacle-like leaves create a tangle of interest. The shrubby dogwood, Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) grown for its dark red foliage and bright yellow blooms, is a great contrast.

Whether with a cluster of luscious Chinese Fringe Tree blooms on the dining room table, or vases filled with striking branches of redbud, anticipate springtime spirit with flowers.

Did you know that flowering trees will always bloom in the same sequence?

The timing may vary with the weather, but the patterns remain. Owner of Southern Oregon Nursery, Dieter Trost, suggests the following plants for forcing blooms.

Early bloomers
• Redbud (Cercis canadensis) - eyecatching purple-pink flowers.
• Quince - many varieties offer many blooming colors.
• Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) - numerous creamy blossoms.
• Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) - yellow flowers like forsythia.
• Japanese flowering plum (Prunus cerasifera) - fragrant white or pink, single or double flowers.
• Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus), fragrant white blossoms and drought tolerant.
• Pussy willow "You can't go wrong with this one. It may even sprout roots!" says Trost.

Midseason bloomers
• Magnolias (deciduous)
• Camellia - with thousands of varieties, they'll be budding all spring.
• Peaches
• Pears - But, Trost warns, "Their pollen has a strong odor… they can really stink."

Late spring bloomers
• Deutzia 'Chardonnay Pearls'
• Japanese Stewartia, This one "grows well here, and has really cool blossoms and nice autumn color."

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