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McCreary: Bring the garden indoors

The end of February finds us betwixt and between — a time too early for spring no matter what the temperature and too late to feel like winter now that daffodils have sprung up all around.

Some of us are stuck in the winter mode and still have late pruning to squeeze in before new growth hits its stride. Others are planting seeds in anticipation of the summer garden.

If you're caught in the pre-spring blahs and are having trouble putting yourself in a gardening frame of mind, try bringing some plants indoors for a while.

A mixed bunch of florist's flowers is always welcome, but nothing says spring like a pot of bulbs bursting into bloom. You can find them at grocery stores as easily as at the florist shop.

With 4-inch pots of blooming stems at affordable prices, buy several, group them together, or spread them around the house for an indisputable statement of spring. You'll find all types of daffodils (Narcissus) in abundance, but the miniatures are especially charming in small pots. Tulips, hyacinths and other bulbs are just as delightful.

Gardeners who never delay pruning beyond Jan. 15 may frown a little that some of us have dallied, but there is an upside here. We can turn what looks like a liability in our gardening practices into an asset by bringing budded branches indoors to force their blooms.

Long whips cut from budded peach and other fruit trees, branches from late-blooming flowering quince, prunings from forsythia, deutzia, or lilac — all can be forced indoors. The only precaution is to make sure that flower buds are showing so you don't end up with foliage popping out instead of blossoms.

Tall, blooming branches make for a dramatic display that can last for weeks indoors. Put them in a tall vase about half the height of the stems and fill with water. Against a blank wall, a tall urn filled with flowering sprays becomes a dramatic, living sculpture.

Flowering branches can stand alone in simple beauty, needing no accompaniment as single stems or massed together in an armful. But if you want more body to your bouquet, tuck in a few leafy twigs around the lip of the vase. Use clippings from an evergreen tree or shrub such as daphne, abelia, mock orange (Choisya and Pittosporum), euonymus, myrtle (Myrtus), citrus, or another evergreen.

To help woody stems absorb water, cut a slit through the ends of smaller branches. On those more than a half-inch in diameter, carefully smash ends with a hammer to force them open for faster water absorption. Use a packaged floral preservative to extend vase life or make your own solution from a teaspoon of sugar, a half teaspoon of bleach and 2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice per quart of tepid water.

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