Pruning Spring Flowering Branches

Flower Problems Questions with Answers

This is the time of year when garden pundits tell their disciples to bring in branches of forsythia, pussy willow or flowering quince for indoor bloom.

A minority of those disciples will follow orders; the rest (and I am one of them) will wish they had actually planted some of those spring flowering shrubs last year or the year before so they could reap the rewards.

So this year I vow to make it my business to order flowering shrubs. They add to the beauty of the garden, and require less maintenance than most mixed borders. And, as far as maintenance goes, flowering branches help maintain human mental health in late winter and early spring. That alone makes them worth a little forethought.

But suppose you, like my husband, just can’t stand the chromium yellow color of the average forsythia. The answer is, of course, White Forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum). This native of Korea sports flowers that are shaped just like those of a conventional yellow forsysthia, but they are pink in bud and white once the buds have opened. The flowers are slightly fragrant, and cut branches respond to forcing in the same way as other forsythias.

If pastel colors leave you cold at the end of winter, the answer just may be Flowering Quince. Known to the botanists as Chaenomeles speciosa, Flowering Quince is a relatively small shrub that shines in the early spring. The ‘Texas Scarlet’ cultivar has bright red flowers and long branches that are perfect for cutting. Eventually the plant also produces tart fruit, which is nice if you or a relative like to make quince jelly.

Everyone talks about witch hazel, but I know few people who actually grow it. This may be because while the fragrance is wonderful, the flowers look rather ragged. For something a little more inspiring, try Fragrant Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), which has yellow flowers with red centers. The shrub flowers early and the branches respond well to being brought indoors. The perfume is quite amazing.

Buttercup Winterhazel (Corylopsis pauciflora) is one of the first shrubs to flower, and its blossoms, not surprisingly, are the color of buttercups. The shrub itself can take some shade, making it a must for people who have limited sunny space. The flowers are bell-shaped rather than tattered in appearance, and they are pleasantly but not overpoweringly fragrant.

My mother always brought pussy willows into the house in the spring, only to be thwarted by our Siamese cat who alleviated the pangs of spring fever by attacking the arrangements. Eventually we learned to thwart the cat by placing the pussy willows in a cat-proof location. If you like pussy willows, you should try growing some in your yard, or even in a large pot on a terrace or balcony. The Giant Pussy Willow (Salix chaenomeloides) has red buds that open to reveal huge catkins that can grow to be 2-3-inches long. As the catkins age they take on a silvery pink tint that makes them look even better, both in the garden and in the house.

If you are one of those people who goes to restaurants and orders black food such as pasta in squid ink (or even if you aren’t), you will adore Black Pussy Willow (Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’). As with almost everything in nature that is not actually dead, the catkins are not truly black. However, they are dark enough to appear black from a distance. When the stamens develop on the catkins, they are bright red, making the total effect quite dramatic.

You can get White Forsythia, Black Pussy Willow and a host of other spring shrubs from several vendors including Bluestone Perennials (800/852-5243 or online at and Wayside Gardens (800/845-1124 or online at Do it this year, and next year you can happily check off an item on the long list of things that you wish you had done. After all, Nature abhors guilt as much as it abhors a vacuum.

by E. Ginsburg

Yellow Rose

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