Forced Bloom Is Not Sustainable

Moth orchids are grown for bloom.

Poinsettias are very popular blooming potted plants for about a month prior to Christmas. Then, most quietly disappear prior to spring. A few become foliar houseplants. Fewer go into home gardens to likely succumb to frost or neglect. Very few survive for more than a few years. It is not easy to recover from the procedures that forced them to bloom so well.

Forcing bloom is stressful. It provides unnaturally indulgent doses of stimuli that optimize floral performance. It involves any combination of deceptive environmental and chemical manipulation. Optimal bloom is the primary objective. Sustainability or even survivability after bloom is irrelevant. Forced plants are barely more than cut flowers with potted roots.

For example, poinsettias receive much more than the nutrition they require for exemplary growth and bloom. The greenhouses that they grow in maintain optimal temperature and humidity for them. Shading shortens their daylength to deceive them into believing that it is the season for bloom. Transition from such decadence to natural conditions is difficult.

Almost all fancy blooming potted plants that are available from supermarkets and florists, and several from nurseries, are forced to some degree. These include poinsettia, orchid, chrysanthemum, hydrangea, azalea, a few types of roses and various bulbs. Such bulbs include lily, narcissi, crocus, hyacinth and tulip. Some exhaust their resources by bloom.

Many forced plants are cultivars that are distinct from more common landscape cultivars. For example, many florist hydrangeas bloom with huge and very abundant floral trusses on short stems. They are spectacular in pots, but might not be so practical for landscape situations. Landscape hydrangeas support bloom higher over the ground on taller stems.

Their potential for inferior performance after their potentially difficult recovery from forcing should not necessarily disqualify forced plants from salvage. Short florist hydrangea can be delightful accessories to bigger landscape hydrangea. Moth orchids are impressively adaptable. Premature doubting of possible ultimate results can be more effort than trying.

Bloom Is Earlier If Forced

60224thumbProperly pruned deciduous fruit trees probably do not have too many extra stems to spare now. Neglected trees would have more to offer. Believe it or not, a few of us who prune deciduous fruit trees diligently and meticulously in winter sometimes leave a few unwanted stems to prune out and take into the home now that the flower buds are beginning to swell and are about to bloom.

Bloom accelerates once the bare twigs are inside where the nights are warmer than outside. If the buds are plump enough, they can bloom in a day or a few. (If not plump enough, the buds may desiccate before they bloom.) Twigs that are already blooming can be brought in as well, but do not last quite as long. Blossoms are a bit messy as they later drop petals, but are worth the bother.

The technique is simply known as ‘forcing’, which works something like forcing bulbs to bloom prematurely. Timing is critical. If a few blossoms are already blooming elsewhere on the tree, the fattest unblooming buds that are already showing color are ready to be cut and brought in. They only need to be put in a vase with water like any other cut flower, and can mix with other flowers.

Stone fruits (of the genus Prunus) like almond, apricot, plum, prune, peach, nectarine and cherry, start to bloom about now, although not in this order. Apple and pear bloom later. All their fruitless counterparts, known simply as flowering plum, flowering cherry, flowering crabapple and so on, are even more colorful, and some types bloom with ruffled double flowers. All bloom without foliage.

Flowering quince and forsythia have already bloomed, but would have been the most spectacular bare twigs to force into bloom. Pussywillow is probably the most familiar forced bloom twig. Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) blooms something like pear, but the aroma may be objectionable to some. More adventurous garden enthusiasts force witch hazel (winter), redbud and star magnolia.