When the trees and shrubs leaf out or flower it appears to happen overnight. The process is much slower. Longer days and warmer weather starts the sap moving up the trees and buds begin to swell. Cold weather will halt the process, for a few days or weeks until the weather warms again. Extreme cold can cause trunks to split and flowerbuds to die.
For those who can’t wait for spring it is possible to force branches of early blooming trees and shrubs into flower early. All it takes is a little selective pruning and a bit of climate for the branches to bloom indoors.
The branches to force are from the plants that bloom first: Double Flowering Plum, Flowering Almond, Nanking Cherry, May Day along with Apple and Crab Apple Trees. Other shrubs such as Forsythia, Azalea and Daphne also force very easily but their flower buds are not reliably hardy in this climate.
For catkins and leaves choose Pussy Willow and poplars.
To start the forcing process, choose branches that have plump buds. The bigger the bud, the quicker the plant will come into flower. Keep the plants shape in mind when removing branches. It is better to have fewer forced flowers than a misshapen tree or shrub.
Make all cuts with a sharp tool, cutting back to another branch. Do not leave stubs as they are unsightly and will harm the plant.
Once the branches are cut take them in the house and submerge them in a large tub of cool water for about 24 hours. This conditioning makes it easier for the branches to boom.
After the branches are removed from the water, re-cut the bottom of the stem and slit the stem upwards twice forming an X or star shape. The cut should be 1-2 inches (3- 5 cm) in length. Place the stems in water that contains a floral preservative to help control bacteria build up.
Keep all buds above the water level by either removing water or buds. Submerged buds, like leaves rot fouling the water. Change the water and cleaning the container every couple of days will help keep the water fresh and improve the branches blooming rate.
The process of forcing branches into bloom, mimics nature. Initially place the branches in a cool area until the buds increase in size. Then move the branches to a warmer location. Placing the branches into a warm location as soon as they are cut can result in the flower buds to falling off, or not open properly.
How long it will take the flowers to bloom is dependent on the variety of branch and how dormant the branch was when it was removed. The closer a plant is to bloom, the easier it is to force. Be patient
In a year where winter seems to want to stay, the sight and smell of spring is welcomed.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.