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Gardening Tips

Horticulture Care
Zones 4 or 5


Gardening in
New England


Spring Tips

Horticulture Care for Zones 4 or 5

Pruning ~ Forcing Branches

Starting Seeds ~ Planters

Spring doesn’t suddenly burst into bloom just because the calendar says it’s March. In the North, winter can linger for weeks or even months.


Late winter or early spring is the best time to prune deciduous trees and large shrubs. Prune trees and shrubs for shape and to remove crossing branches and old or diseased wood. Prune on a  mild winter day when the temperature is above freezing. When pruning, cut just above the bud and at an angle away from the bud. The healing will be faster. 

Early-Blooming Subshrubs - The best time to prune is when leaf buds emerge in spring. It is best to wait until you see a little green before removing the dead tips.

Late-Blooming Subshrubs - Since most new growth often appears on the lower part of stems and since the upper stems have succumbed to the cold in our zone, it is best to prune back to four to five leaf nodes above the ground. Just don’t cut your subshrubs back to the ground. (Subshrubs: Lavender, Sages, Oregano, thymes, Caryopteris, Perovskia, Artemisia)

Starting Seeds
  • Containers: Peat pots, egg cartons, yogurt containers (with drainage holes), or a dome mini-greenhouse. Soilless

  • Potting Mix: Mainly sphagnum peat.

  • Seeds: Your choice.

  • Label/Markers.

  • Plastic Wrap or Covers.

  • Water.

  • Good light source: Windowsills can be cold at night. You can use a heat mat or fluorescent lights. Herbs seem to germinate with cool conditions, so it is worth giving them a try, if you do not want to invest in mats and lights.

Forcing Branches

Chose a day where temperatures are above freezing. Look for branches that are less than ½ inch in diameter and with lots of plump flower buds. Flower buds are round and fat, whereas leaf buds are smaller and pointed. If in doubt, cut open a bud, a flower bud will reveal miniature flower parts.


Add floral preservative to a bucket of warm water. (You can make your own with 1 tablespoon of Listerine or 1 tablespoon of lemon-lime soda per quart of water.)


​Fill a sink with very warm water. Holding the stems underwater, recut them at a severe angle. For branches around ½ inch diameter, split the end of the stems in half for about an inch to allow the stem to take up water or smash it with a hammer.


​Place the stems in the bucket of water where the room temperature is 45 to 55 degrees, and then arrange the branches for display when the first buds begin to show color. Both before and during bloom, place the branches away from bright, direct sunlight and away from any direct heat, which will dry out the buds and branches and reduce overall bloom. Even spray the branches with water. Your blooms should look good for at least a week. Branches forced for their foliage will last even longer.


Likely candidates include the obvious pansies and spring-flowering bulbs (tulips, grape hyachinths), but annuals, perennials, and even small shrubs and trees can be used effectively as well. Annuals and tender perennials that can handle some frost, such as osteospermums, Marguerite daisies, nemesias, twinspurs, and African daisies, perform very well in containers in cool weather.

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