Monday, February 21, 2011


Here in the Northeast we are expecting yet another snow storm, albeit a small one (1 to 3 inches). This winter has been a very contentious one, with more snow than I can remember in my life time of winters. In January we had snow storm after snow storm, and it comes to the point of looking up to the sky and yelling “Okay, I give up. Please let me see the green grass or the early flowers of spring bulbs!” As depressing as this winter has been, there is a surefire way of bringing some color into your life, and that is by forcing some of the early flowering shrubs into bloom in your home.

This is a great time to take cuttings from your shrubs for two reasons: 1) You can see the branching habit of the shrub without being blocked by the leaves and 2) It gets you out of the house, moving around and taking a visual inventory of your plantings. Begin by looking for the dreaded three “D’s” of pruning: Dead, Diseased and Damaged. Unfortunately these first removals are not the ones you want to bring inside for forcing, but when removed, you will have a clearer picture of what can be removed for forcing without leaving the plant lop-sided or with a large hole in it. The length of the pruning cut should be 1 1/3 times the length you are looking to use. Let’s say you have a 12 inch tall vase and you want the stems to stand another 12 inches above the top of the vase. The length of the branch should be around 32 inches, and of course this is not a tape measure deal, but an eye measurement. Even though we are taking cuttings for indoor bloom, keep in mind that your pruning cut should be on an angle just above another bud that faces away from the center of the plant, for the branch to heal properly.
Gather your stems and bring them inside for a quick bath. Remember all of those cold, windy days when you didn’t even want to go outside? They took their toll on the bark of the plants, drying them out. Fill your bathtub with tepid water and allow the stems to lay submersed in the water for 2 to 3 hours. This will help hydrate the stems and buds and to make the stems think that spring has finally arrived. Remove them from the water and give them a new fresh cut approximately 2 inches above your original pruning cut and place them into a bucket or container with no more than 3 to 4 inches of water in it. Store the container of cuttings in your basement or somewhere with limited light exposure. You will need to check the water on a regular basis for level and to make sure the water does not turn green. Depending on the type of plant you have chosen and the closer to spring you are, the cuttings will take anywhere from 1 week to 6 weeks for the buds to swell to the point of blossoming. Patience is a virtue with forcing – the more patient you are, the fuller, more developed the flowers will be. During this time you will need to give the stems new fresh cuts, again on an angle, to help the flow of water through the stem. When the time comes to bring them into your living area, do not place them in direct sunlight or on a radiator or warm surface, as this will shorten the bloom period. Remove any growth or buds that will be at or below the water level to prevent moldy water. Finally, don’t worry about adding a fancy cut flower preservative to the water. Keeping the water fresh and not allowing the water to run out are the two reasons why cut flowers die quickly. If you feel you must add something to the water, mix in a children’s aspirin in the water and you will receive the same effect.
Plant Listing
This list comprises many of the common shrubs that lend themselves for forcing. I have grouped them by their “basement” time, or time from cutting to bloom, and included their flower color.
1 to 2 WEEKS
Forsythia (yellow), Honeysuckle (pink or white), Bridal Wreath Spirea (white), Cornelian Dogwood (yellow), Pussy Willow (buff), Shadblow (white), Spicebush (yellow) and Witchhazel (yellow).
3 to 4 WEEKS
Flowering Almond (pink), Flower Quince (red or orange), Mockorange (white)
Beauty Bush (pink), Deutzia (white), Redtwig Dogwood (white)

Remember the larger the flower bud (plants such as lilacs, wisteria, etc), the longer it will take for the flower to develop, and 9 times out of 10 the flowers will not be as big and beautiful as if they were left on the plant and allowed to develop naturally.
Lastly some of these cuttings will create roots. If you want to create new plants, remove the cuttings from the water when the roots are no more than ¾ of an inch long. Plant them in a soilless potting mix and return to the unheated basement. When the weather begins to change to spring, slowly acclimate the new plants to outside conditions by placing them in a protected, limited light area during the days and return them to the basement at night. After a weeks’ time, they will be ready to remain outside and start developing real roots.
Try this easy way to bring color in your home – you won’t regret it!

Saturday, February 5, 2011


In the summer months, it's sometimes hard to keep kids out of the garden, especially if you've marked off an area just for them to grow their own vegetables and flowers. But what about winter, when chilly temperatures force you inside? What can you do to keep your children interested in gardening? The answer is "plenty!" Here are some ideas to get you started thinking about indoor gardening projects for your family, scout troop, or other youth group. I'm sure you'll come up with others.

Windowsill gardens.
Try cultivating a windowsill garden when the snowdrifts keep your kids inside. All you need is a sunny spot and a few containers of soil. Herbs are an excellent choice for windowsill gardens.

Peculiar plants.
What kid wouldn't be fascinated by an insect-eating plant? Many garden centers sell Venus flytraps in their houseplant section. Then visit your library or search the Internet for more information on the natural habitat and growth habits of this unusual plant.

Watch seeds sprout.
Line a glass jar with a damp paper towel and insert several zucchini seeds between the glass and the towel. Place a lid on the jar, leave it on the kitchen counter, and check the paper every day to make sure it's still moist. Seeds should sprout in a few days. Or try bush beans instead of zucchini.

Read a book.
Books like Peter Rabbit or The Secret Garden can spark your child's interest in gardening. Ask your local librarian or bookstore owner for other suggestions.

Decorate while you wait.
Let kids indulge their natural creativity by painting inexpensive terra cotta pots to use next spring, for repotting houseplants this winter, or for birthday and thank you gifts. Kid-safe, durable paints can be purchased at most craft shops.

Get a jump on spring.
Plan a visit to your local garden center to buy seeds. Or let your child help select varieties from the seed catalogs. Then start seeds indoors to plant outside after the last frost. Ask the experts at your garden center or check your favorite gardening book to determine when to start seeds.

Worm farm.
Line a large cardboard box with a garbage bag. Fill it with soil, organic matter, and a few worms. Keep it shady and moist, but not too wet. Add kitchen scraps (vegetables only!) Worms will help teach your kids about the interdependence of plants and organisms as they turn vegetable kitchen scraps into valuable compost.

Garden crafts.
There are several projects you can try with your kids, depending on their age and interest, such as hand-painted plant markers or homemade whirligigs to put between rows to frighten off birds. Your local craft store should have all the supplies you need.

Carefully place some soil and a few mosses and plants (with roots) inside a clean mayonnaise jar. Keep your indoor garden moist with a plant mister, and cover the opening with clear plastic wrap.

Feed the birds.
Stock up on birdseed and suet at your local garden center, and feed the birds this winter. Have your child keep a record of all the species of birds that come to the feeder and what date each first was spotted.

Pot People.
Draw or paint faces on small clay pots, and then fill with soil. Plant grass seed, water, and watch the "hair" grow (aka the Chia Pet technique).

Build a birdhouse.
Birdhouse kits and plans are available at most garden centers and craft shops. This is a great activity for a cold winter's night.

The sooner we can get our children interested in gardening and the natural world around them, the better the earth’s future will be. All it takes is one activity with a child to get them hooked, and it all started with a lima bean seed for me in elementary school. Who would’ve known?