Clever Gardening Technique
Force Branches for Winter Color
There is a host of spring-blooming woody plants suitable for forcing. These plants formed their flower buds the previous summer and fall; all they need is a dormant period of at least six weeks of cold weather for the buds to be ready to open. So by late January, most are ready to flower when the temperature is right.
Pussy willow and forsythia are two favorites for forcing, but don't stop there. Magnolia, spring-flowering witch hazel, redbud, spring-flowering spirea, serviceberry, flowering quince, flowering cherry, apple, crabapple and flowering pear are all good candidates as well.
Pick a day when the temperature is above freezing and cut branches at least a foot long. Be sure to prune carefully so as not to interfere with the natural shape of the plants you're trimming. Bring the cut branches inside and make cross-cuts in the ends of the stems or smash the ends of large branches with a hammer to help them take up water quickly. Then lay them in a bathtub filled with room-temperature water for several hours or overnight. Next, set the branches in a container of water in a cool (60 degree F) room out of direct sun. Change the water daily and, when the buds begin to open, arrange the branches and set them where you can enjoy their ephemeral beauty.
Vegetable Gardening Week by Week
Do you wish you had a gardening expert at your side to tell you just what to do and when? Then I've got the book for you! Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener's Handbook by the father-daughter team Ron and Jennifer Kujawski (Storey Publishing, 2010, $14.95) gives you weekly to-do lists based on the last frost date in your region. Starting 20-15 weeks before the spring frost date and continuing on until 26-29 weeks after, the book details exactly what needs to be done to grow a successful food garden. Also included is lots of great general advice on seed starting, soil building, space saving gardening, crop rotation and many other topics. While I found that the timing of the late-season advice wasn't as accurate for my garden as was the spring schedule (when it come to fall planting, I'm more accustomed to using the number of weeks before the first fall frost, rather than weeks after the last one in spring, as this book does), overall this is a great resource, especially for a novice gardener. There's space in the book to record your own observations and notes, making this an even more valuable gardening tool over time. Together the authors tend a large garden in western Massachusetts. Ron is a former UMass Extension educator and Jennifer is a horticulturist and garden writer.