How to force cut branches for early spring blooms

Itching for spring flowers? Here’s a trick to force cut branches to bloom now

flowering limb

Tired of cold, gray days outside the window? Catch a little springtime and bring it indoors by forcing branches from spring-flowering shrubs into bloom.

If you’re pruning shrubs for shape or size at this time of year, branches for forcing can be a bonus. You can enjoy fuzzy pussy willows or big pink magnolia blooms on stems you otherwise would discard. And if you aren’t pruning just go out and cut a couple of branches.

Why would a bush bloom indoors? Shrubs that bloom in early spring already have their flower buds. Toward the end of winter, those buds begin to swell and get ready to open, waiting for the signals of longer, warmer days and spring rains. When you bring a branch with buds into a heated room and place it in water, you trick the buds into reacting as though spring were further along than it really is.

Don’t try it too early, the shrubs need to spend at least six weeks outdoors in cold winter weather before they will undergo the chemical processes that lead to blooming. By early February, most have met that requirement.

The best plants for forcing include forsythia, flowering quince, cherry, plum, magnolia, pussy willow, crab apple, Cornelian-cherry dogwood, redbud, serviceberry and witch hazel, Taylor said. Shrubs that flower later in the year, such as butterfly bush, won’t have any flower buds yet, so forcing them won’t work.

If you are planning to force branches, don’t get carried away with your pruning and remove too many. “You still want flowers in your garden this spring. Leave the shrub looking balanced and shapely, with plenty of flower buds.

Indoors, make a fresh cut at an angle at the bottom of each branch, and place it in water immediately. That will prevent sap from sealing over the cut end, which would keep the branch from absorbing water. The angled cut will create greater surface area to absorb more water.

Place the vase in indirect light. Change the water every couple of days, as you would for cut flowers.

This cold spring spring weather is reluctant to let go , but a vase full of blooms can make it brighter.

It’s time to get those bird houses ready!!!!

Spring is in the air…finally!

bird house 2

After what feels like a long and very cold winter, it’s finally beginning to feel like spring, even though our gardens are still covered with snow.

But the birds are getting ready for spring now. The White-throated Sparrows are singing their “Old Sam Peabody” song and the red wing black birds are making their conk-la-ree! sound in the fields.

Today I watched a male Chickadee perched atop my birdhouse (which is still covered in snow, too) as he puffed out his chest and sang “Chicadee, dee, dee, dee, dee” over and over again.

Pretty soon he was rewarded when his mate came in to check out his potential choice of housing. Apparently she likes it, because she kept going back inside.

Now is the time to make sure your bird houses are clean and ready to go. Take a good look at your houses. Most of them are built so that you can take either the roof or the floor off so that you can clean them out. Some have sliding sides, but most houses have some type of access.

Empty out last year’s nests, and wipe the box down with a mild bleach solution. Replace the roof (or floor) and hang the box back up because soon it will become home to a new brood of baby birds.

Remove the old nest carefully and take a good look at it. Can you tell who built the nest? You can learn so much about your backyard birds by looking at their nests.

For example, Chickadees make a very neat nest with moss and lichen (and even dog hair) woven in. House Wrens, on the other hand, build a very messy nest that often look like just a pile of sticks, often with ribbon, plastic bags, and other trash woven in.

Check out Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds Nests to learn which birds have nested in your bird houses. This is a great activity to do with your children or grandchildren to teach them about the different birds that make their homes in your wildlife garden.

What birds nest in your wildlife garden?

This is also a great time to get out and put up some new bird houses!

Knowing when to put up birdhouses is essential for birders to attract nesting birds to their yard or garden. For cavity-nesting birds, houses can provide the perfect place to build a nest, and other species may also use birdhouses as temporary shelters. If the houses aren’t up, however, they can’t be used. So when is the bird nesting season, and when should birdhouses be ready to host new feathered families?

When Birds Use Birdhouses

Different bird species nest at different times. The earliest nesting birds may begin investigating potential nest sites and birdhouses as part of claiming territory or their courtship rituals as early as January or February (July or August in the Southern Hemisphere). Other birds may not nest until later in the season, but they may still use any available houses as shelters from predators, cold temperatures, and poor weather both before and after the nesting season. Birds that raise multiple broods each season often nest earlier as well. If a house is not up when these birds are ready to lay their first eggs, they may still investigate it as a nesting site later in the season.

Best Time to Put Up Birdhouses

There is no bad time to put up birdhouses, and the best time to put them up is as soon as you have them available. Even if it is not nesting season, birds may investigate the house, learn where it is, and possibly use it as shelter. More If you only want to provide houses for nesting, putting them up in late winter or very early spring will ensure they are available for even the earliest nesting species.

Birders who want to offer birdhouses only to a specific type of bird, such as bluebirds, can learn when the best time to put up bird houses for that species may be.

If the birds have been visiting your yard for several years, note when they first arrive each spring and put up the birdhouses just a week or two before their expected appearance. This will minimize the risk of other birds taking over the houses while still providing shelter for the birds you want to see. If you haven’t seen the birds in your yard before, contact local birding groups to learn when they generally arrive in the region so you can be ready for their arrival and nesting needs.

If you miss putting up birdhouses as early as possible, there is still time to attract nesting birds. Many bird species lay more than one brood each year and they often investigate different nest sites each time, so a late birdhouse may be perfect for a second or even a third brood. Similarly, many birds will restart their nesting efforts if poor weather, predators, or brood parasites destroy a first nest. A birdhouse that may not have been available earlier can be the perfect option for renewing a nest.

Tips for Attracting Birds to Birdhouses

No matter when you put up birdhouses, there are ways to make them more attractive to birds looking for a home for their new family.

  • Choose a safe birdhouse design that will protect the nesting birds from poor weather and predators, but will be comfortable for both adults and chicks
  • Check that the entrance hole size is appropriate for the birds you want to use the house so larger, more aggressive birds cannot take over and invaders cannot reach inside.
  • Position the birdhouse carefully so it is sheltered from inclement weather but not too far from food to help overworked parents.
  • Mount the house firmly so it does not sway, wiggle, or move as birds enter and exit, which can discourage wary or overprotective parents.
  • If a family does move in, monitor them properly if desired, but do so discreetly to keep from frightening or stressing parent birds and delicate chicks.
  • Clean the birdhouse after the nest is empty or at the end of the nesting season to keep it from harboring mice, insects, or parasites that can harm birds.
  • Take steps to attract birds to your yard, including offering nesting materials, to make the overall habitat ideal for nesting birds.

It is never too late or too early to put up birdhouses, but birders who know when to put up their houses will have the best success attracting the birds they want to nest nearby.


Pruning Your Fruit Trees

blossomsNow is the best time to prune your fruit trees and here is how to do it in three simple steps.

Within a few years of lovingly planting fruit trees, most folks find themselves with scraggly overgrown bushes, rather than the Garden of Eden they had envisioned. The key to keeping fruit trees attractive and productive is annual pruning.

Worry not, pruning is not the brain surgery it has been made out to be. Curmudgeonly Master Gardener types may tell you that different fruits are pruned in different ways, which is true to an extent, but there is a simple three-step process that works for the vast majority of fruit trees.

Outside of the tropics, most of us are dealing with pome fruits (apples, pears and quince) or stone fruits (peaches, cherries, apricots, plums — anything with a pit). This three-step method works for both.

Though summer pruning is not harmful to the trees, winter makes things easier. Without the tree’s foliage, you can really see what you are doing.


Start by pruning away any wood that is dead, damaged or diseased—a.k.a. the three D’s.

Are sprouts coming from the base of the trunk? If so, remove them — technically they’re called ‘suckers’ and they originate from the rootstock rather than the fruiting variety grafted on top.

How about suspiciously straight sprouts growing from some of the main branches? These erect, perfectly vertical branches, or “watersprouts,” — should be removed as well.

With all these clean-up cuts, it’s important to prune the branches back flush to the larger limb they’re growing from — don’t leave little stubs.



The goal of thinning is to allow light and air into the canopy, which boosts fruit production and reduces problems with pests and disease.

First, remove any branches that grow downward, toward the center of the tree or that cross paths with another branch.

Once these are out of the way, stand back and take a look. The goal is to have evenly spaced branches splaying out in a pleasing, fractal-like pattern from the center.

Do you see places where multiple branches compete with each other? You might find two or more growing from a single crotch at a narrow angle, for example, or from different points but in a parallel fashion, one hovering over the other.

If so, thin out all but one branch, retaining the branch with the healthiest appearance and best crotch angle (roughly the 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock angle from the center of the tree). Wider angles can break when laden with fruit and narrower angles lead to bushy growth and fruit that is too high to pick.

Next, continue to thin the tree until there is a good 6 to 12 inches of air space around every branch. The smaller the branches are, the closer they can be to each other.

As with your clean-up cuts, all thinning cuts should be made flush to the branch.



The last step is the easiest — you’re basically giving the tree a haircut.

The idea is to prune back the outermost growth of the tree so the branches become shorter and thicker as they grow, rather than long and gangly. This keeps them from snapping under the weight of the fruit, but pomologists (fruit scientists) will tell you that it also causes the tree’s hormones to activate growth lower in the canopy, making for smaller, more fruitful trees.

Heading back the tree means cutting off 20 to 30 percent of last year’s growth. You can distinguish last year’s growth from two-year-old growth by the wrinkly ring of bark encircling each stem. Depending on the vigor of the tree, this may be anywhere from two inches to 4 feet back from the tip of each branch.

Unlike the previous steps, these cuts will be made part way into each branch. Exactly where you make the cut is important, too. Prune each branch back to a point one-quarter inch above a bud that faces the direction you want that branch to grow in the coming year. If there is another branch close by on the left, for example, prune back to a bud on the right side of the branch.



  • Sharp shears make for clean, easy cuts — if you don’t know how to sharpen your own, many neighborhood hardware stores often offer the service for a small fee
  • As a measure of disease prevention, dip the blades of your pruning shears in solution of isopropyl alcohol for 30 seconds to disinfect them before moving on to prune another tree
  • Clean up the pruned wood from around the tree and dispose — especially if it contains any diseased material


10 Ideas for a beautiful spring garden

A spring garden is one of the sweetest things. Bulbs emerge from the ground as if by magic, trees leaf out with fresh green growth, and flowering shrubs and perennials burst into bloom. Here are 10 ideas to make your garden shine in the spring.
Traditional Landscape by AHBL
1. Showcase spring blooms. Bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, and delicate annuals like violas, primroses and nemesias steal the show this time of year, swathing garden beds in color. Perk up tired winter beds by picking up a few flats of annuals at the nursery and tucking them into bare spots. Make a note of where you’d like bulbs in your garden — perhaps lining a walkway or grouped in a patch by the mailbox — so you’ll have a plan in place when bulb-planting time rolls around next fall.
Traditional Landscape by Dear Garden Associates, Inc.
2. Plant in drifts. Plant drifts of flowers in a single color to get the most color impact in garden beds. Unlike a regimented row, a drift has a more irregular, natural shape — it’s how a single variety of wildflower would naturally grow on a hillside.Here, two drifts of ‘Caesar’s Brother’ Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica ‘Caesar’s Brother’) spread on either side of a steppingstone path form a dramatic swath of deep blue-purple. The Siberian iris has a clumping habit and will naturally spread to form a drift if planted in moist, slightly boggy soil.

Traditional Landscape by Enroot Landscape Planning and Design
3. Create a seasonal destination. As you’re dusting off your patio furniture, consider pulling a pair of chairs to a spot that’s particularly beautiful — perhaps an area under a flowering tree or one with a view of the garden.Wherever you choose, make it a spot where you’ll be tempted to sit with a cup of morning coffee and enjoy the spring sunshine.

Traditional Landscape by Claudia De Yong Garden Design
4. Give your edible garden a cottage-garden look. Kitchen gardens may have practical functions, but with a little extra care they can become just as attractive as ornamental beds.Four ways to instantly boost charm in your garden

  • Plant climbing roses and allow them to ramble over a fence.
  • Add decorative trellises or supports made of pruned branches for vines like sweet peas and pole beans
  • Give your garden shed a fresh coat of paint and place a potted boxwood out front.
  • Plant trailing herbs (like variegated thyme) and flowers (like marigolds ) to soften the corners of raised beds.
Traditional Deck by
5. Invest in one knock-your-socks-off flowering tree. Considering adding a specimen tree to your yard? Spring is a great time to go tree scouting. Drive around your neighborhood and look for trees that tempt you to pull the car over. A few favorites for spring blooms include  flowering crabapple, Japanese flowering cherry , dogwoods, or red buds

Traditional Landscape by London Garden Designer
6. Plant clipped evergreens. While evergreens are easily appreciated in bare winter beds, they’re also surprisingly useful in spring gardens. Use an evergreen hedge as a dark backdrop to show off pale blooms planted in front. Clip a few evergreen shrubs into spheres or pyramids to add structure to beds and balance the loose forms of billowing spring flowers.

Modern Landscape by Botanica Design
7. Add pollinator-friendly plants. While you’re planting perennial beds, consider including a few plants specifically chosen to support birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Ideally, include a variety of nectar- and pollen-rich blooms in many colors (red, pink, bright violet, blue, yellow and orange) to support the widest range of pollinating birds and insects.Consider the peak bloom time of plants to ensure there’s a steady stream of sustenance.

Traditional Landscape by Waterman & Sun
8. Spruce up shaded areas. Shaded areas can easily turn into forgotten corners of the garden. Instead, turn a dark area into a woodland destination that can be just as interesting and colorful as brighter areas. white pansies line the pathway amidst a woodland planting of flowering hellebores, blue forget-me-nots, lush ferns and pink azaleas.

Traditional Landscape by MJ McCabe-Garden Design
9. Plant a sweet-smelling climber. Add a romantic element to garden pathways and trellises with a fragrant vine or climbing shrub rose. Plant near bedroom windows or along pathways leading to the home so that the fragrance will be carried on the breeze into sleeping and sitting areas.
Traditional Landscape by Enroot Landscape Planning and Design
10. Add a water element. Water can be used in several ways to show off spring gardens and add interest to landscapes year-round. Trickling water in fountains and sloped water elements add movement and a pleasant sound. Still-water elements like pools and basins add a reflective quality and sense of depth.

How to attract birds to your yard


bird house

Sometimes those who would like to attract birds to their home will ask if there are any special “tricks” to success other than putting out a bird feeder or birdbath.

The quick answer is yes!

Here are four proven ways to attract a maximum number bird species to your yard.   Not only will you get to see them, but you also will be helping them on their long migration journeys or to get through a cold winter. A well-stocked yard or deck, following the advice below, can help hundreds of birds to be healthier during the year and can help dozens survive a tough winter.  How cool is that?


Birds certainly need water, but they may not always know you have made it available. This is especially true of spring and fall migrants who are just passing through. The best way to “advertise” is to let them hear the water by using a fountain pump or a small drip hose.

Drippers, small fountains, bubblers and misters are very popular with our feathered friends. They are reasonably inexpensive and are available online and at most bird supply stores.  I like to think about migrant species such as warblers, vireos, and flycatchers stopping off for a refreshing drink (and snack) on their way from Canada to Central America.


Different birds eat different things, so it helps to offer a variety of food types. Native plants that provide seeds, berries and insects are the best and most natural way to offer food for wild birds. You can supplement that with feeders. Here are some tips:

  • Black-Oil Sunflower is the most popular bird seed, and attracts a variety of birds to your feeder.  Blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, finches, nuthatches, and sparrows love it.  New to backyard birding?  Black-oil sunflower seeds are a great place to start!
  • Thistle or Nyjer is a small, high quality, seed that goldfinches love. These birds have a beautiful gold color and they are a pleasure to watch along with their cousins, the red-hued house finches and bright-colored buntings. Thistle seed requires a special bird (finch) feeder with smaller holes,
  • Seed mixes are popular for beginners because they attract many different types of birds.  They can be messy though because birds pick over unwanted seeds and toss them away.  “No-mess” seed mixes, that have been de-hulled, will cut down on the mess below your feeder.  They are more likely be picked up by ground feeding birds, such as doves, juncos, sparrows or even squirrels.
  • Suet is basically a cake of animal fat and is a healthy source of protein for birds, especially in the winter months.  When food is scarce, suet may be a lifeline for many birds in your yard. Suet is often mixed with some seeds and served through suet cages.
  • Nectar is sugar water and requires what is called a hummingbird feeder.  Hummingbirds are the most notable nectar-loving birds. They are a pleasure to watch in your backyard.  The increasingly rare oriole is a fruit-eating bird that also enjoys nectar.
  • Smorgasbird: there are many other types of food that you can feed birds. Many birds enjoy peanuts, peanut butter, cracked corn, millet, apple pieces and oranges.


There are a large number of bird species that stay on the ground to feed and seldom, if
ever, land on feeders.  They will often gobble up seeds that have fallen from the feeders and others will scratch around in small piles or mats of leaf litter you can place around the yard.  This leaf litter is a natural habitat for many insects and gives insect and grub-eating birds such as robins, towhees and thrashers, hours of quality snack time.


If you watch how birds approach most feeders, they will first sit in a nearby bush as a “staging area” and then fly out for a quick snack on the feeder.  They will then return immediately to the relative protection of shrubbery or trees.  So placing feeders relatively close to some “safety cover” will attract more birds.  Keep an eye out, however, for neighborhood cats.  They like to lie in wait in vegetation that may be too close to the feeder.   Allowing a few feet between a cat hiding place and a bird feeder will give the birds time to react and get away.

Birds also attract other birds.  These curious creatures listen for activity in the area and like to see what is going on.  For them, your yard will be like the local restaurant you can’t wait to tell your friends about.

The main thing about attracting birds to your yard or deck is to let it happen over time and enjoy it.  As birds begin to find your place you will be amazed at how many you see.  Remember to keep up with the food and water supplies, especially in the winter when you can help dozens of birds survive the cold.   Remember too, that a good bird identification guide will add to the fun.  We are fond of the National Wildlife Federation’s Guide to North American Birds because of its good reviews and reasonable price.