Wild Things…
FORCING BRANCHES
By Karen Vizzi

   Even though snow still threatens, you can bring a piece of spring indoors by simply doing some maintenance pruning on a few ornamental shrubs now. 
   Late winter and early spring is a good time to do some light pruning of ornamental shrubs. Although it may not look like spring to us, many plants are already chemically preparing for the new growing season. A light pruning to remove dead, weak or wayward branches is good for the plant. And a dormant plant gives you the opportunity to really study it for re-shaping later in the season. Also dormant now are the insects and disease that would otherwise find opportunity in a fresh cut of plant tissue.
   Because weather is still very much a concern, pruning in moderation is the key. You would not want to do any hard pruning or total renovation of a plant shape at this time. This would stress a plant too much and you may also be removing desirable flowers. The timing for hard or severe pruning depends on when the shrub blooms. Here is the rule of thumb. Shrubs that bloom on old wood (last season’s growth) are generally spring bloomers and should be pruned AFTER they finish flowering. 
   This gives the plant the rest of the season to push new growth and develop flowers for the following spring. Premature pruning of this type of shrub will not harm it, but you will never get any flowers. Examples are forsythia, azalea, rhododendrons and ornamental fruits (cherry, pear, etc.). 
   Shrubs that bloom on new wood (this season’s growth) are usually summer bloomers and should be severely pruned in early spring to stimulate development of the new growth that will produce the flowers. Examples are buddleia (butterfly bush), lavender and caryopteris (blue beard shrub).
  So back to light pruning. One of the greatest benefits of light pruning now is that you can bring the cuttings indoors and force them into bloom. Some candidates for this process are forsythia, flowering quince, witch hazel, pussy willow and ornamental fruits. Bring a bunch inside and fill a large vase with WARM water.
   Cut the branches to the desired height, then take a hammer and smash the bottom inch or two of each stem, and place in the vase. The smashing of the cut-end of the stems allows the dormant plant to soak up water more quickly and efficiently. Depending on the species, you will have beautiful spring blooms within one to three weeks. Providing they are kept in a relatively cool spot, most blooms will last for weeks. Pussy willows, once dried, will last for years in dried arrangements. Or the branches may even develop roots and can be planted outside when the weather warms.


 
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