BENEATH THE BARK of knobby tree branches reaching toward February’s grey sky, spring is beginning to swell. Many flowering trees and shrubs set buds during the previous growing season, and a close look will reveal rounded, plump flower buds and small, pointy leaf buds bulging from their barren branches. It is time to pull on the winter woolens and walk the yard with sharp, clean pruners in hand.
Forcing branches into bloom is a simple and forgiving process, where they are coaxed into early flowering by emulating spring’s environment indoors. Trees and shrubs require a proper stretch of cold temperatures—six to eight weeks—for buds to experience a requisite dormancy that allows them to open. Lake Forest and Lake Bluff are situated in growing zone 5B, where cold temperatures have safely settled in by the time February rolls around. Following these easy steps will bring spirit-lifting blooms to your favorite room within a few days to a few weeks—long before outdoor specimens blossom.
• Choose a mild, above-freezing day so branches and buds are more pliable and less shocked by the transition indoors.
• Look for younger branches approximately 1/2-inch in diameter and 12 to 18 inches long, with plenty of fat, round buds. Select non-essential branches that will not mar the shape of your tree or shrub. Branches with beautiful curves will make a more dynamic arrangement.
• Prune from the widened base of the stem you plan to cut where it joins the larger branch or trunk, making a clean cut.
• After removing desired number of branches, carefully cut two slits in a cross pattern into the pruned end of branches or tap gently with a hammer to facilitate water intake (smashing too hard will have the opposite effect). Immediately place in a bucket or sturdy vessel filled with warm water and some floral preservative. Alternatively, completely submerge and soak whole branches in water overnight in bathtub to speed the breaking of dormancy.
• Arrange in a sturdy, water-filled vessel with floral preservative that will not topple from the weight of the branches. For shorter arrangements, cut branches to desired length, choosing sections with plenty of buds.
• Place arrangement in a cool spot with bright, indirect light away from heat sources to prevent drying. Mist with water daily to keep buds from falling off, and change water every two to three days (sooner if water appears dirty) to keep bacteria at bay.
The following are some suggested trees and shrubs for forcing. Specimens that are cut closer to their natural blooming time will have a shorter forcing time. Forsythia and pear, for example, bloom early, making late January and early February a great time to prune. Lilac and dogwood bloom later in spring, so late February and early March are safer bets for forcing success.
• Apple and Crabapple