Paul Rogers: Looking for signs of new life
Finally, March has arrived! Will it lead us into spring? It always has — to a greater or lesser degree.
Likely our area will continue to experience cold, but not frigid temperatures; storms of snow and rain can be expected, but of less intensity than those of the previous month.
However, we do know that the vernal equinox arrives on the 20th, bringing with it a strong sun riding high in the sky, warming the soil and lengthening the days so that by month’s end sunset occurs after 7 p.m.
The average temperature for March should be 10 or more degrees warmer than February. Will earthworms awake from their winter dormancy on March 5, the time of the full worm moon? It would not be a surprise to discover that the worms, and numerous other natural phenomena, will take note of the snow-covered ground and extend their inactive stage.
By no measure is March a gardening month, but it is a prepare-to-be-gardening month. Seed, bulb and plant orders should be finalized and mailed, seed-starting supplies assembled, tools repaired or replaced, and plans completed for spring improvement projects.
Create your own, personal spring. Bring into the heat prepared pots of spring-flowering bulbs. Set bulbs of paper-white daffodils into containers and marvel at how quickly they burst into bloom.
Add mass and diversity to your indoor spring scene by forcing cut branches into early leaf and flower. Almost any tree or shrub can be stimulated into breaking buds that will develop into leaves. Forcing stems into flower is best accomplished by selecting 2- to 3-foot-long branches from pussy willow, forsythia, witch hazel, dogwood or other handy plant specimens. The earlier in the spring that a plant normally blooms is an indication as to how quickly and easily the plant will force.
Lay the cut branches in the bathtub. Cover with tepid water for two or three hours. The warm water will soften the protective bud coverings so as to allow flowers and leaves to emerge. Recut the stem bases by removing a 1-inch section to allow the branches to drink. Use cold water in the container where you display your arrangement to extend the life of the flowers.
Plants such as birches, willows, red maples, apples, pears and cherries will develop soft green leaves and may flower. Once you have experienced the emotional lift that results from watching your own personal spring develop, you will force new batches. As soon as one lot fades, another group should be waiting in the wings.
Help the season along by forcing plants. You will be glad that you did.
Paul Rogers is a gardening correspondent for The Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette.