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updated: 2/14/2013 1:55 PM

Forsythia branches can be forced to bloom indoors

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By Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand

Q. I have heard that forsythia branches can bloom indoors. How is it done?

A. You can bring a bit of spring indoors by gathering forsythia branches and forcing them to bloom indoors.

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When temperatures rise above freezing in February or March, cut branches that have many plump buds.

Cut a few more branches than you expect to use because some may not absorb water satisfactorily.

After March, it is pointless to force flowers from forsythia, since, by then, they're ready to burst forth outdoors, naturally.

Indoors, with pruning shears or a sharp knife, carefully split the cut end, one to four inches up the stem.

Submerge the branches overnight in a deep pail of warm water. This soaking loosens the bud scales and helps them to readily fall away as the flowers expand.

After soaking, place the cut branches in a container of warm water and place in a cool place (60--65F) that gets plenty of light. Too high temperatures tend to cause the buds to drop. Change the water every few days. Adding a floral preservative to the water will help to control bacteria.

Be patient. It may take one to eight weeks for the blossoms to open.

Q. Last spring I found many brown needles on some of my evergreens. I think it was a type of "winter burn" due to strong cold winds. How can I prepare my evergreens to avoid that problem this year?

A. It sounds as if your evergreen needles were damaged during the severe winter.

Cold winter winds and sun can quickly desiccate (dry out) evergreens. It is particularly important that all evergreens (needle and broadleaf) are well watered before freezing temperatures.

On broadleaf evergreens such as holly, boxwood, and rhododendron, you will find browned foliage if the plants suffered winter damage.

Plants in exposed areas can be wrapped in burlap for winter protection. If you have too many evergreens to cover with burlap, you can spray them in late fall (when temperatures are above freezing) with an anti-desiccant available at nurseries.

Q. Is it OK to use old fertilizer? It has turned into concrete-like lumps?

A. Yes. All of the nutrients are still contained in the lumps, which must be crushed with a hammer before they can be applied. This caking of fertilizer occurs because of the nature of the material and poor storage. Synthetic fertilizers, both granular and powdered, are prone to caking.

Some fertilizers are more hygroscopic, or absorb more moisture, than others. For example, fertilizers containing calcium nitrate or ammonium nitrate can absorb moisture better than those containing urea, ammonium sulfate, potassium chloride, calcium phosphate, potassium sulfate or calcium sulfate. To help prevent caking, some manufacturers apply a coating to granular ammonium nitrate and ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers.

Therefore, to avoid this from happening, store fertilizer in its original bag in a dry location. You can also place the bags in big buckets with tight-fitting lids.

Finally, never leave unused fertilizer in spreaders since it can rapidly corrode any metal parts and ruin the equipment.

Q. I have a philodendron that has grown very long. Can I propagate new plants from this plant? If so, how do I do that?

A. Yes, you can propagate new plants from your plant. Spring is a good time to establish the new plants from a healthy parent plant since active growth has begun.

It sounds as if you have a trailing philodendron.

An easy way to propagate a trailing philodendron is to place a cutting in a container of water with a few pieces of charcoal to control bacterial growth.

Use a clean razor blade or sharp knife (cleaned with rubbing alcohol) to make an angled cut just below a node (where leaves come off the stem.) The cutting should include six or seven leaves from the tip of a trailing stem or healthy side shoot.

Remove two or three leaves from the bottom nodes and place the cutting in water making sure no leaves are under water. Place the container in a bright but not sunny spot with a temperature of 68-72 degrees.

Roots should emerge from the underwater nodes in about four to eight weeks. At that time you can plant the cutting in a three inch pot using a houseplant soilless mix. Water thoroughly and watch your plant thrive!

An alternate propagation method is to prepare the cuttings as you would for water propagation. Dip the cut ends into rooting hormone and insert them deep enough into pots of sandy peat or a peat moss and sand mix so they support themselves. Water thoroughly.

Cover the pots with a bell jar or old aquarium or place them in a terrarium and keep them in a warm room out of direct sunlight.

Check periodically to make sure the planting medium is moist. In four to eight weeks you should have new plants.

• Provided by Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Master Gardener Answer Desk, located at Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 Algonquin, Des Plaines, is open 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email Cookcountymg.com@gmail.com

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