University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Three questions you may ask this month concern which branches you can force into flower indoors, what you need to know if buying a hobby greenhouse, and how to get the longest life from cut flowers.

Cut flowers last longest if you buy them fresh, such as those found at florist shops or other stores.  Inspect flowers from these other sources to see if they appear to have been recently delivered, or look picked over.  Choose flowers that are still in bud for longest life.

Flowers last best in cool, but not freezing, temperatures.  Protect flowers from extreme cold on the way home from the store.  Once you get home, trim the ends from the flower stems with sharp pruners or scissors, and place the flowers immediately in water.  It helps to add flower preservative--often sold with the flowers, or in a small packet in the bouquet--to the water.

Make sure no leaves are in the water, as they may rot.  Rotting leaves result in microorganisms that will clog the flower stems, resulting in no water going up, so flowers wilting.  Replacing the water every three or four days with fresh water containing
preservative will also prevent such fouling of the water.  Recut another half inch off the stems each time the water is changed, to ensure they are open to water uptake.

Dr. Lois Berg Stack from the University of Maine, in the 2005 North Country Garden Calendar, says that only spring-flowering branches of shrubs and trees can be forced into flower.  She suggests trying fast-forcing plants like forsythia (one to three weeks into bloom from cutting), pussywillow (two weeks), and vernal witchhazel (one week).  Those that may take longer include the flowering cherries and crabapples (two to four weeks), rhododendron (four to six weeks), lilac and mockorange (four to five weeks).

When cutting branches from outdoors to force indoors, make sure they are at least one foot long, and have flower buds on them.  Flower buds are plumper than leaf buds, and tend to occur on younger, more vigorous branches.  There is no need to crush or hammer the stems to "loosen" them as some believe.  Soak the branches overnight in a bathtub to soften the buds, then put them in a bucket of water in a cool, humid place.

Hobby greenhouses can be lots of fun, especially in winter when all else is bleak outside.  You may just have an inexpensive one for starting seeds under cover in spring.  On the other extreme you may have one with plants year-round.  Or you may do as I do, and keep it cool through winter to save on heat, and to overwinter tender perennials or to force bulbs into winter bloom.

In the same calendar, Margaret Hagen from the University of New Hampshire, cautions you should study which hobby greenhouses are on the market, and talk to people with them, before buying one.  Consider the amount of time that maintaining greenhouse plants demands.  Calculate the additional construction costs of foundations, temperature-control systems, and interior structures like plant benches.

Make sure you have a site that gets maximum sunlight, especially in morning but preferably all day.  Make sure you locate a greenhouse near sources of water, heating fuel, and electricity.  Decide whether you want a free-standing greenhouse, or one attached to the house (usually less expensive).  Then head to the internet and do a search on "hobby greenhouses" for more information and sources.  Some gardening magazines have advertisements for such firms as well.

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