February and March can be dreary and cold.  One way to bring a spot of bright, cheery color into the house is to bring forsythia into the house and force it to bloom. By February, forsythia has usually experienced enough chilling hours (exposure to a certain duration of cold temperatures) to be ready to break dormancy.  The ideal time to trek out in the cold and gather the branches is a day when temperatures get above freezing.  If that’s not possible, try putting the branches in a cool spot for a day or so when you first bring them in.  When you’re out cutting the branches carry a bucket of water with you and place the cuttings in the water immediately as you cut.

It takes about two weeks for the buds to swell and flowers to emerge. Ready your vases or containers with warm water, nutrient solution. Cut off from their food and water supply, the cut forsythia will appreciate a little help in the nutrient department. You can use cut flower food packets from the florist. Or you can make your own solution using one part lemon-lime soda to three parts water. Add one-quarter teaspoon of common household bleach to each quart of the solution. The lemon–lime provides some acidity and the sugar in the soda is a nutrient. The bleach retards any algae or bacteria growth that can clog the stems.  If the stems clog, the buds dry up and fall off. Have another container of plain, clean water handy.

Take the cut forsythia out of the bucket and place the cut end of the branch underwater in the clean water container.  Cut a fresh end on the branch underwater to the desired length and immediately place it in your vase.  Cutting underwater is important. It keeps air from entering the stems and stopping all water uptake.  Place your vases or containers away from direct heat and direct sunlight.  Change the water if it gets cloudy or in about 7 to 10 days as the buds start to swell.  In two weeks you should enjoy the bright yellow forsythia flowers.

Posted by Kim Ellson - Gardening; New Blog Post at


Forcing Forsythia

Caring For Cut Flowers


"It is hard to think of the Holidays and not conjure up images of red Poinsettias and a snowy landscape", said Kim Ellson, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. Poinsettias truly have become a symbol of Christmas and it would be very difficult to think them away.

"Although reds are certainly the most iconic" said Ellson, "variations of pinks, whites, burgundies and salmons are also very attractive." Most plants come predominantly in bush form yet there are also some in tree form.

Why is it then that despite their abundance and familiarity, their care still oftentimes a mystery to many? Are Poinsettias really that difficult to keep healthy and looking their best for any length of time? "There is no need people should be experiencing difficulties with their Poinsettia plants" commented Ellson. "Here are some tips to ensure your Poinsettia looks its very best this season and well into the New Year."

  • Purchase a healthy, high quality plant.
  • Make sure the cyathia remain tight and have not opened. The cyathia are the green buds in the centers, surrounded the colorful red leaves; which open up to tiny yellow flowers. 
  • White and healthy roots are a great indicator of good plant health.
  • Wrap plants before transporting these home.
  • Avoid cold drafts; Poinsettias are highly sensitive to direct drafts and suffer damage easily. 
  • Always water thoroughly.
  • Let plants go completely dry between waterings without stressing plants. Poinsettias are prone to suffer from overwatering as they have sensitive root systems that easily rot out.
  • If possible select a cool area in your home; avoid heating ducts or bring plant into warm area during Holiday season. This will ensure vibrant colorful bracts.
  • There is no need to fertilize your Poinsettia during the Holidays; save the fertilizer for March.
  • Monitor plant for pests such as whitefly by checking the undersides of the leaves to allow for early detection and treatment. 

"These basic guidelines should help ensure you get the very most out of your Poinsettia this Holiday and enjoy a colorful season" said Ellson.

I am sure that almost everyone would agree that Dahlias are a bright and colourful addition to any bouquet, whether from your own garden or from your local flower seller. Either way, be aware that all cut flowers require care. So here are some tips to help keep that bouquet lasting...

From the garden:
Harvest flowers from your garden early in the morning, choosing stems with full flowers in bloom (buds won’t open once cut) and long enough for your vase. Snip stems horizontally with pruners (or scissors).
Cut just above a set of leaf nodes and side buds, this will allow new shoots to grow from those nodes.
Cut stems should be seared. Harvest your flowers early in the morning, make a fresh, straight snip on each stem and then pass it over an open flame (Southern Living Magazine).
                                     - OR -

place the cut ends in about 2-3 inches of very hot (not quite boiling) water. Let the stems stay in the water for at least one hour. This hot-water treatment conditions the stems so the blooms will last four to six days (Better Homes & Gardens).
Soak stems thoroughly before arranging. Remove foliage that is below the water level (this is true for all flowers, as leaves will decay and release bacteria shortening the life of flowers) and then put the stems in a bucket of warm water and place in a cool, dark place overnight.

Flowers from the Flower Shop

These will already have been treated.
Change water every 2-3 days, adding cut-flower food (available from florists) or make your own from this Southern Living Magazine recipe: add a drop of bleach and 1/4 cup lemon-lime flavored soda to a quart of water. Keep the bouquet in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Change the water and recut the stems every other day to keep blooms fresh.

Remember if you have a question, ask your local florist or contact a Master Gardener.