Thursday, February 17, 2011

February in the Garden

There are few things drearier than a February garden.  Leaving your own to look for interest in someone else’s garden is invariably unrewarding.  But February is a good month to prune deciduous shrubs, and if you lack a garden of your own, find a friend with one and offer to help prune.  If you play your cards right, you will come home with an armload of branches to force into bloom in your apartment.

It’s much easier to prune when you can see what you are doing.  To wait until after spring bloom leaves you a dense, leafy shrub to deal with.  You may lose some of the bloom by pruning now, but it’s worth it.  Whatever you do, don’t shear a shrub straight across the top.  Take the time to select two or three of the oldest branches and cut them down to the ground.  It’s easy to distinguish the oldest stems; they are the thickest and darkest.

When bringing branches indoors, choose ones laden with flower buds; they are fatter and larger than leaf buds.  The closer you do this to their outdoor blooming season, the quicker they will flower indoors.  On the other hand, you really want them when spring is still a long ways off, so bring them in now and be patient.

With a spell of warm weather in the coming weeks, Flowering Quince will begin to pop outdoors.  If you are lucky enough to have one in your garden (or your friend’s), cut a few branches, bring them indoors and they will soon bloom.  Flowering Quince are available in two species: Chaenomeles speciosa and C. japonica.  Although not native, they have been around since the 1880’s, when they were quite fashionable.  Long out of favor, they deserve to be reintroduced.  If you can identify a flowering almond, peach, cherry or forsythia, they will be almost as quick to open.  Apple blossoms require a longer time to open, but are well worth the wait.

When you bring your budded branches indoors, plunge their length in tall containers of lukewarm water for a few hours.  If you crush about two inches of the stems with a hammer before or after soaking they will absorb more water.  Keep them in a sunny holding area with the temperature anywhere from 45 to 60 degrees and you will be providing the most favorable conditions.

Only one soaking is necessary, but flower buds will open faster if the branches are sprayed daily with warm water.  I think the practice is supposed to mimic spring rains, although no one has ever said so.  Rest assured that your branches will open at some point, no matter what you do.  Just be patient.


  1. The hydrangea on my roof terrace here in Northern Provence have started to bud, with some tiny pale green leaves already opening. I am not pleased with the current shape of the bushes as each lost many odd branches over the winter. Is it still okay to prune them? If so, do you have any tips? Thank you!

  2. To add to above, the majority of the new growth is coming out of the soil in the pot. Should I cut down all the long branches to the soil or leave a few with buds?