Branches of spring-blooming trees and shrubs can be brought indoors at this time of year and forced into bloom. The flower buds were formed last fall, and, after a period of cold weather, are ready to grow and bloom when warmth and moisture are supplied.
Some of the easiest and best to force include pussy willow, forsythia, cornelian cherry, Japanese quince, red maple and crab apple.
To bloom, pussy willow takes about a week indoors, forsythia, cornelian cherry, Japanese quince and red maple take 10 days to two weeks, and crab apple about three weeks.
Most of them have an abundance of buds along the younger shoots. The larger, fatter buds are usually flower buds; the smaller ones are leaf buds. Flowers are produced only from certain specialized buds on some shrubs and there's no general way to tell them from leaf buds.
Prune the branches flush with the trunk or main branch so that no stubs are left. A clean, flush cut will heal rapidly with little danger of damage from insects or disease. No new buds will form to replace those you remove; so take branches from several shrubs to avoid depriving a single plant of all its blossoms.
During the time it takes for the blossoms to appear, a clean-cut stem may seal over and prevent the uptake of water. So, slit the lower inch or two of the stem with a knife, or crush it with a hammer. Then immerse the branches in water and let them soak overnight. The next morning keep just the base of the stems in water and store in a dark room between 60* and 65*f.
A piece of charcoal in the water will help prevent the water from fouling. Change the water and cut off the bottom 1/4" to 1/2" of stem each week. Finally, when the buds get plump, move the branches to a well-lighted room. Don't put them in direct sun.
Forced shrub and tree branches will bloom and stay attractive longer if kept in a cool place, 55 degrees to 60 degrees, at night. Replace faded branches with fresh ones and add water as needed.
When the buds start to show color, put the branches in containers for display. They're less likely to be damaged at this stage than when fully open.
In any case, don't wait until blossoms open to make flower arrangements with the branches. You lose not only the fun of watching them develop but also part of the display time. Q.My daffodils are up, three inches high. I guess it's because of the mild weather we've had. How can I protect them from cold weather that may come later on ? A. Daffodils are hardy and need no protection. But if flower buds form and weather is severe, the flowers are likely to be poor, if not completely ruined. That won't prevent them from blooming the following year. Q. I saved seeds from a large pumpkin last fall. If I plant those seeds this spring will they produce the same kind of pumpkins ? A. If pollination of the flowers occured at random, you are likely to get pumpkins of all shapes, sizes and colors this year. Q. We were given a beautiful schefflera and it's growing well. But lately I notice little white dots on the underside of the leaves. Are they insects, and is there an insect spray that will kill them ? A. They probably are insects. But you need to identify the insects before using an insecticide; there's no one insecticide that can be used effectively on several kinds of plants or for several kinds of insects.
Your best bet is to sponge the leaves with water or put the plant under the shower in the bathtub and try to wash off the insects. Several such treatments, weekly or twice a week, usually are effective. Q. I want to plant roses in our backyard but I want kinds that won't have to be sprayed every week or two. Which kinds do you suggest ? A.Two diseases, black spot and powdery mildew, often require frequent spraying to get good flowers. A new rose has been created by breeders that is immune to six different strains of black spot, but it won't be available for purchase for two or three more years. In the meantime, the floribunda varieties of roses seem to have considerably more resistance to disease, and may not need much spraying. Q. We love having birds in our yard and would like to plant something that might provide food for them in midwinter. Can you suggest something ? A. Chanticleer Callery pear, (Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer') is a good possibility. It bears one-half inch diameter fruit which holds well into the winter and birds seem to love it. It's a rapid growing flowering tree; the mature tree reaches 30 feet or more. It's resistant to fire blight, a serious disease in most pear orchards. Q. We have a shady spot in our back yard. I'd like to grow some flowers there if possible. Can you suggest some ? A. Impatiens, coleus and wax begonias are the most successful flowering annuals for a wide variety of shade conditions. They won't do much if it's very dry, very moist or very shady all day long. Often tree roots are also a restricting factor. Q. I have difficulty growing leeks. Nothing works. Do you have any suggestions ? A. It's best to start leeks indoors from seed. Plant the seeds in March and transplant the seedlings to the garden in April. They grow slowly, require plenty of moisture. Full sun is necessary. Q. When is the best time to plant asparagus ? A. Early spring is the usual time to plant it. The roots are generally available then at seed stores and garden centers. Early spring is also the best time to plant the seeds. Q. Last fall for the first time we were swamped with acorns from our oak trees. They are very thick on the lawn. Will they harm the grass ? A. Acorns, leaves or whatever else that shuts off light from the grass are certain to damage it. The grass needs light in order to produce food. When an oak produces an unusually heavy crop of acorns, it's often a sign the tree is in trouble and is trying to produce a lot of seeds, or young oaks, before passing away. It may be a good idea to fertilize the oaks generously this winter or early in the spring. Q. Our garden is small and we want to plant pumpkins and winter squash. Is it likely they will cross-pollinate ? A. They will cross-pollinate but it will not affect the quality of the fruit, only the seed. Never save squash and pumpkin seeds unless they have been grown in isolation. Q. We are thinking about planting zoysia in our lawn. Will it really keep out weeds ? A. A dense turf of Meyer zoysia usually is resistant to weed invasion. When started from plugs, it takes about three years to become well established. Q. I'd like to plant some of the late blooming azaleas, those that bloom in late May, but I'd like to see what they look like in bloom before buying them. Would it then be too late to plant them ? A. Azaleas can be planted almost any time of the year. April and May are probably the best times, while midsummer, late fall and winter are the worst times. Q. Is there any kind of neutralizing substance I can put in my sprayer after it has been used with a weed killer ? A. Household ammonia may help, also repeated rinsing and a general cleaning agent, but to be on the safe side, use one sprayer for herbicides (week killers) and another one for fungicides and insecticides. Q. What causes salts to build up in pots of plants and how can I avoid it ? A. Applying too much fertilizer plus frequent light waterings may cause salts in the fertilizer to come to the surface as surface water evaporates. Deep, infrequent waterings tend to disperse salts through the total soil volume. Q. Will earthworms I buy and let loose in my garden improve the soil ? A. If the soil is poor, bringing them in will not help because they will not stay, and if the soil is good, you cannot keep them away. If the soil is poor, add arganic matter and other essentials and you will soon have plenty of earthworms.