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Country Gardens: How to force branches

    March is the perfect time to get some blooms and fresh leaves in the home. You can get almost any tree or shrub to produce leaves. Those that are most impressive include forsythia, pussy willow, and flowering almond and witch hazel. You will soon start seeing buds on trees and bushes as the month progresses. Branches won’t flower or leaf out unless they have the proper cold period, which is usually around six weeks. If you try to force something into bloom and it does not work then it may be too early. Try it again in a couple of weeks. Forcing branches is really easy to do. Cut and gather the stems you would like to try and bring them indoors. Add a floral preservative according to the package directions, to a nice warm bucket of water and set aside. Try making your own preservative with this recipe that works well for me: 1 tablespoon of Listerine or 1 tablespoon of a lemon-lime soda per quart of water. The preservative will promote hydration and keeps bacterial growth to a minimum, keeping the water clear for up to one week. The next step is to fill your sink with very warm water. Hold the stem underwater. Recut the stem at an angle that is very diagonal. For those larger branches (over 1/2-inch), cut the end of the stem in half about an inch up to allow more water to be taken up into the stem. Very warm water is important because it contains the least amount of oxygen. If oxygen gets into the stems it can block water from being taking up. Place the stems immediately after cutting in the warm bucket of prepared water. You are now ready to create an arrangement. Place your favorite stem in the center of the arrangement and fill in with the rest of the stems and soon they will burst into blooming leaves and small flowers. Every week you should change the water and add new preservative. Before and after bloom it really helps to keep the branches away from any bright, direct sunlight and away from any direct heat vent. This will dry out the buds and the quality of leaves that will emerge. If you keep the stems in a cooler environment they should last a good week. You can experiment with almost any tree or shrub you have on your property. By cutting several branches each week, you will have continuous living color during these last months of winter. You might be surprised what each stem shows as it opens with its new beginning. If you start gathering your branches now and keep adding those newly cut branches every week you should have a wonderful display for you Easter celebration. Send your comments and questions to

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