It has been said that the anticipation of something can be as rewarding as the actual event itself. I think that's why early March is one of my favorite times of the year. Each year about now we're so eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of the promise of spring.

It has been said that the anticipation of something can be as rewarding as the actual event itself. I think that's why early March is one of my favorite times of the year. Each year about now we're so eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of the promise of spring.


Just this week the warming sun is -- at last -- drawing me outdoors to breathe in the moist, fragrant breeze and feel the promise of the awakening landscape. Strolling through my yard, I'm envisioning the changes that will soon occur. My spirits are invigorated by the anticipation of the spectrum of garden activities once the frost in the ground is gone. It has been a long winter -- I've certainly grown weary of staying indoors and I'm anxious to start digging in the soil. Now it finally feels like spring is nearly ready to begin.


This year I'm noticing that the various cultivars of witch-hazels (Hamamelis) in my yard are several weeks later opening their flowers than in recent years. The cold and snowy weather has certainly been the cause. I know we'll enjoy their landscape beauty for many weeks -- at least until early April. With my pruning shears I cut an armful of Hamamelis branches to bring inside. These will be striking for nearly a week indoors, and the heady fragrance of their delicate, colorful petals is incomparable this time of year.


Coaxing early flowering branches to bloom indoors is called "forcing," and it's an uncomplicated process. Simply cut some branches from your plants, trim and arrange them so they look attractive in a vase of warm water and place in a bright window. Make sure to choose those branches that show the larger buds that will open as flowers. The flowers on the earliest ones will appear quickly or the buds begin to swell within a couple days. Blooms can last a week or more, depending upon the type of plant and how cool the room stays at night. Replacing spent blooms with freshly cut branches creates a sequence of flowering that can be enjoyed for weeks.


Some of the early flowering plants in my yard are ready to come into bloom now and ripe for forcing. Pussywillow catkins are swelling -- the giant pussy willow (Salix chaenomeloides) and black pussy willow (S. melanostachys) are especially bold and colorful. Forsythia is one of the earliest to show color. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is nearly ready to open its rounded clusters of small yellow flowers, as are both Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) and the native mountain andromeda (Pieris floribunda). I've cut sprigs of these to add to my indoor "flower show" -- they're blooming readily in the vase with little extra care.


Don't be afraid to cut branches from your landscape plants. Properly pruning trees and shrubs helps keep them from overgrowing their space and develops better branching. Trying different types from your yard will help to gain experience with what plants force best for you. In addition to those earliest ones I've mentioned, flowering cherries (Prunus), quince (Chaenomeles), Callery pear (Pyrus) and Rhododendron "PJM" -- all of which bloom in late April outdoors -- are good candidates for forcing. Dogwood (Cornus), crabapple (Malus) and magnolia can also be forced. But because these start to flower in May outdoors, these will need more time and patience to force successfully.


These pre-spring weeks in March are perfect for advancing the pleasure of your garden by bringing some of it indoors. And enjoying colorful early blooms certainly enhances the anticipation of the real spring that's still a few weeks away.


R. Wayne Mezitt is a third-generation nurseryman and a Massachusetts certified horticulturist, owner of Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton, www.WestonNurseries.com. He has served as president of the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association, the New England Nursery Association and the American Nursery and Landscape Association, based in Washington, D.C.