Q: Can you cut branches right now to force or will you hurt the plant? I plan to do my pruning later in the spring ... your opinion please.
A: You can do a little light trimming now of any flowering tree or shrub. Real pruning of spring blooming shrubs is done immediately after they bloom. But you’re not pruning — just trimming a bit — and you’ll never miss a stray branch or two that you’d prune anyway. It’s the perfect time to cut that stray branch, the one that scrapes the car, blocks a view, or allows the squirrels to climb onto the feeder. The tree or shrub will never know the difference. You can’t possibly have any guilt because the branch will not be wasted. You’re going to take these branches into the house and enjoy them as the tiny flowers and leaves uncurl.
Q: Forcing forsythia reminds me of kindergarten when the teacher had a branch of forsythia blooming on her desk from Valentine’s Day on. What else can you bring indoors to force? What about lilac, magnolias, dogwood, azaleas and rhododendron? I see a few of these at florists, but is it possible to force at home?
A: These later-blooming branches take more time and patience to force successfully. Their branches can be cut after the buds are well-formed, in about another month. It takes weeks of careful climate control and feeding. If the buds aren’t mature, they simply will be too tiny to open and will often yellow and drop before blooming. Try a few stems of these more difficult to force branches, and you’ll understand why the florist can command prices of $3 to $5 per stem for these early beauties. It’s a lot of work and very uncertain. Stick with fruit trees, willow and, yes, forsythia for more dependable forcing.