I don't know about you, but I loved Dawn's idea for starting a little spring in the house during these final (and often very long) weeks of winter. It got me thinking though: if you have a yard full of trees without their leaves, how do you know what kind of tree they are? As Dawn mentioned, some trees and shrubs will do much better with indoor forcing than others, but obviously it can be a little tricky to determine just who is who when the identifying features are on winter vacation. The solution? Winter Tree Finder by May Theilgaard Watts and Tom Watts.
This pocket-sized volume is a basic manual for identfying deciduous trees during their months without leaves and flowers. The book is written in a manner that reminds me just a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure story or a well-designed flow chart. Answering yes or no to specific questions about tree attributes will guide you through different sections and pages of the book, until you have used the questions to determine what kind of naked tree it is that you've got. This book is great fun for many reasons, but what I love is that it encourages a certain amount of attention to the structure of the tree itself. The bark and branches become as important and instructive as the leaves and flowers would normally be, and this attention to detail really helps things along if getting on a first-name basis with your neighborhood trees is something that you'd like to do.
So, see if you can track down a copy of Winter Tree Finder and use it to find the ideal forcing branches to try Dawn's project. I have also heard that soaking the branches in tepid bath tub water until they've absorbed quite a bit of moisture is a great way to get them started with opening up their leaf buds.
And of course, let us know how it goes! You can always post your pictures of your nature explorations with your family, or nature-related projects in TMG's Flickr group. We'd love to see what you're up to.