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Forcing Spring: GBBD, February 2011

February 15, 2011

Patchy snow in my Gettysburg PA back yard (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) By mid-February, even winter lovers like me can feel a bit tired of winter and start yearning for spring. In my Maine garden, still in the depths of winter and tucked away under a thick blanket of snow, that yearning would be premature. But here on the Mason-Dixon line in south central Pennsylvania, there are signs of spring.

Last week, the temperatures got above freezing every day and the snow began to slowly melt. By late in the week, the patio was completely clear and the back lawn was beginning to appear at the receding edge of the snow. And then yesterday, temperatures climbed up into the 50s (F), and warm air combined with what the local television meteorologist called “snow-eating” winds to effect dramatic melting. Today, my south facing back yard has only patches of snow, and I can see tufts of wild onion grass at the edges of the patio.

It’s still too early for any blooms in my garden. But like many gardeners, I have strategies for forcing spring into an early appearance. Three weeks ago, on a sunny day in between snow storms, I went out and cut several branches from the Forsythia at the back of my garden, brought them inside, and put them in water. Today those branches are a cheerful mass of spring-yellow flowers.

Forced forsythia (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Soft yellow forsythia flowers from my Gettysburg garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)The forsythia growing here seems to be a different variety from what I have in Maine. My forced forsythia photos from last year (Spring Indoors: GBBD, March 2010) show flowers that are a bright golden yellow. These are a softer yellow with hints of green. Each variety is well-suited to its environment. In Maine, where winter is much longer, my yearning for color is more intense and therefore better satisfied by an intense, saturated yellow. In southern Pennsylvania, where winter is gentler and spring arrives on soft, mild breezes, a soft yellow is a perfect harbinger of the approaching season.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Please visit her blog to see February blooms from gardens around the world.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2011 12:39 pm

    aloha jean,

    what a beautiful thing to do some forcing now and then, i loved cutting forsythia back when i was in the mainland and doing this for indoor color

    thanks for sharing this today

  2. gardeningasylum permalink
    February 15, 2011 1:05 pm

    I really like those soft yellow blossoms – mine lean more to the harsh unfortunately.

  3. February 15, 2011 1:10 pm

    Hello Jean,

    I always find it fascinating how the same plant has some different characteristics depending on where it is grown. I do hope that spring is coming soon for you and you winter garden(s).

    • February 17, 2011 9:33 pm

      Noel, It is hard to resist forsythia — especially in the midst of winter. So easy to cut and force, and so satisfying when they bloom.

      Cyndy, I can’t remember whether I’ve forced forsythia here before, but I was surprised when these bloomed with such a lovely soft yellow. I’m used to the harsher color, too. Of course, at this time of year, who can afford to be fussy? I’ll take any color I can get! Have you been getting any of these mild southwest breezes? Temperatures were in the upper sixties here today (a new record for the date), with even warmer weather promised for tomorrow!

      Noelle, I don’t know whether the softer yellow is a result of different growing conditions or if it’s a different cultivar. Since the forsythias in both my Maine and PA gardens were already there when I moved in, I don’t know anything about their origins.

  4. February 15, 2011 1:25 pm

    Jean, I wish I had a forsythia to bring indoors. Other than forced hyacinths with their fabulous springy scent, there’s no nicer way to move spring closer than forcing branches. Sometimes, I’m even tempted to do some “random acts of gardening” on overgrown shrubs in the ‘hood just to get me some branches. If you see a sneak-thief running round with a pair of pruners, don’t mention me.

  5. February 15, 2011 1:28 pm

    Even here in California I am yearning for more spring.

    Forcing branches of nectarines, plum, pluot, and pears…they’re getting ready to burst!

    Happy dreaming,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  6. February 15, 2011 1:42 pm

    Where I live, the forsythia is already starting to bloom outside and that is just wonderful. One of the first signs of spring. Both of your forced ones are very pretty.

  7. February 15, 2011 2:02 pm

    When I lived in PA, I too loved to force forsythia at this time of year, but up here it is a little too early. Yours is so pretty inside. Happy GBBD. All I have blooming is snow and some ‘snow’ birds, but it is pretty snow for my GBBD post. You snow is melting. Hooray!

    • February 17, 2011 9:41 pm

      Helen, LOL, I love the idea of a little guerrilla pruning. Truth be told, I might have been doing guerrilla pruning myself. I’m a renter here and I don’t actually know exactly where the property line is between my yard and that of the back neighbor. But, whichever side of the line the forsythia is on, I figured branches that were hanging over my garden were fair game!

      Sharon, How wonderful to have all those branches of flowering fruit trees to force. I bet they are just beautiful.

      Barbara, Wow, forsythia outdoors already! I’m always amazed by how early spring comes to western Europe.

      Donna, Last year when I spent the winter in Maine (more similar to your Niagara conditions), I had forced forsythia in bloom for bloom day in March, not February. I didn’t post for February bloom day at all. Spring comes a month earlier here. I am happy to see the snow melting — even though I know that these warm temperatures we’ve been having are a “false spring.”

  8. February 15, 2011 4:25 pm

    What a lovely way to bring some sunshine into your home even when the snow still lingers.

  9. February 15, 2011 4:48 pm


    Lovely to see the Forsythia, I planned to force some inside too, but coppiced so much willow that all my vases are full! 😀

    The yellow of the Forsythia is so nice and cheerful that it certainly helps to cheer up the house as this time of year. I have a white Forsythia coming into bloom now, it has lovely pink-tinged petals and is stunning!

  10. February 15, 2011 7:02 pm

    Jean, Like you I have really enjoyed this warm and melting PA weather. When I went out to take photos for GBBD, there was much more than I thought going on and Winterthur sent me photos too. I also cut a bunch of branches off my split redbud to bring inside and force. I have no idea if this will work but have lemons make lemonade. Carolyn

    • February 17, 2011 9:49 pm

      Janet, Those yellow flowers make me smile every day. I’m not sure how much longer they’ll last; I should probably cut some more and bring them in. It would be great if I could keep the forsythia going inside until I have some spring flowers blooming outside.

      Liz, I’ve never seen forsythia in any color but yellow. The pink-tinged white flowers sound wonderful.

      Carolyn, We are definitely getting spoiled by this weather; it’s going to be a shock when the normal February temps return in a couple of days. On the other hand, I don’t want it to get too warm too soon. My students tend to mentally “check out” for the summer on the first day the temperature hits 80; I always pray that won’t happen until late April or early May! I love the idea of forced redbud; you’ll have to let us know how it works. There’s lots of redbud blooming on the Gettysburg battlefield in spring, but I think the National Park Service would frown on guerrilla pruning of their trees.

  11. February 16, 2011 1:46 am

    lovely reminders of what is to come soon..I know mine are budding and waiting for some sustained warmth…we will get a taste of warm for a few days but alas it will not be long-lived

  12. February 16, 2011 3:09 pm

    Still waiting for the thermometer to rise here Jean but so far the first two months of this year have been considerably warmer than the last two months of last year. We have a forsythia just outside our an allotment site – now you have given me food for thought 🙂

  13. February 16, 2011 3:44 pm

    Beautiful! I love forcing branches. I have to keep this in mind when planting more of my garden. I think my forsythia is actually large enough this year that I could steal a few to force bloom indoors! I hope they look as fantastic as yours! Now I just need to shovel a path through the snow to get them (sigh).

    • February 17, 2011 9:53 pm

      Donna, I’m glad to hear you’ve been getting some of this hint of spring weather, too. Isn’t it lovely? This is just about the time I cut the forsythia for forcing when I’m in Maine.

      Anna, Is that forsythia outside your allotment available for some volunteer/guerrilla pruning? I think forced forsythia are right up there with snowdrops and hellebores in saying, “Spring is coming!”

      VF, How about snowshoes?

  14. Lydia Plunk permalink
    February 16, 2011 4:42 pm

    I see why so many of our horticulturists come from PA. Quite inspiring the plants your way.

  15. February 17, 2011 11:40 am

    So pretty! I keep wanting to force some crabapple branches but am not sure if they’d be ready yet. Will have to try in the next few weeks.

  16. February 17, 2011 9:57 pm

    Lydia, Thanks for visiting. Zone 6 Pennsylvania is a pretty wonderful place to garden because such a wide array of plants grow here. I can grow many of the cool-loving plants that grow in my Maine garden, but also plants that are not hardy there.

    VW, I confess I’ve never forced anything except forsythia, so I don’t have a good sense of the relative timing of other flowering trees and shrubs that can be cut and forced. I imagine forced crabapple branches are beautiful.

  17. Lula ( permalink
    February 19, 2011 9:44 am

    The floral arrangement you made is so nice that the color made me wish for one for myself. I saw a huge one two blocks from my home in the street on a corner, with signs of blooming. Maybe is time for a guerrila’s night visit!

  18. February 20, 2011 10:37 am

    Very nice post, Jean;-) You’ve reminded me to cut some forsythia branches today! Our weather has ranged from the 20’s at night to the 70’s during the day, just in the past week. It was in the 20’s this morning and I think we might be back to colder weather again. Yesterday the wind howled and there were gusts up to 60mph in the area. Several house fires due to wildfires from people tossing cigarette butts without thinking, and part of I-95 had to be closed down for a while due to the fires as well. One of my heavy birdfeeders flew off the deck and some trees up the street were snapped in half. It seems a bit calmer today, luckily. Hope all is going well for you in PA.

  19. February 21, 2011 12:40 pm

    Jean – glad you are seeing some signs of spring in Pennsylvania. The forsythia is lovely. But you are right that western Europe is lucky indeed in how early growth starts. We have a little garden in southern England (sadly rented out and enjoyed by someone else) and today my gardener sent me photos of the daphne bholua in full fragrant flower, plus hellebores, snowdrops, and primroses. It made my day to see so many things I had planted in flower, and it made me very sad not to be there to enjoy them.

  20. February 21, 2011 5:47 pm

    Oh how I envy you the forsythias. I don’t have any on the property at this point. 2 years ago I tried to root some from cuttings, but it was a no go. Nothing says spring like those bright yellow sprays, especially on shrubs allowed to grow into a natural fountain shape. It’s painful to see them when they’ve been clipped into any kind of shape, it really detracts from the blossoms.

    It’s snowing so hard right now. The weather maps don’t even show the white/dark grey radar for us now. They’ve switched over to BLUE, it’s falling so fast. Ah well, this won’t last. Can it? LOL At least I’ve got my basement plant lab to play in. 😀 Stay snug.

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