Why wait for spring when you can enjoy it early indoors? Spring flowering trees and shrubs are a ‘natural’ for forcing. Why? Because their buds formed in the fall before they went dormant. All you have to do is harvest some branches, bring them inside and follow the directions below.
FLOWERING TIME DEPENDS ON THE SPECIES
Forcing flowering branches is easy, assuming they have spent enough time chilling. Many spring-flowering trees and shrubs need a period of winter dormancy in order to bloom. Generally, the closer to a plant’s actual flowering time, the less time it will take to force its branches indoors. And for many areas of the country, that means by late winter many species are ready to be harvested.
Forcing spring branches can take anywhere between 2 to 5 weeks, depending on the species. Early bloomers such as forsythia, quince, witch hazel and pussy willow, for example, are usually the fastest to flower at approximately 2 weeks. Cherry and dogwood tree branches, however, can take up to 4 weeks to develop, depending on when you cut them. In general, trees take longer than shrubs to force.
HINT: The closer you wait to the plant’s natural bloom time, the less time you’ll have to spend forcing branches indoors.
FORCING FLOWERING BRANCHES
Start by selecting a few healthy, medium-sized branches with lots of plump buds that look ready to open. Cut the branches from the tree or shrub using a pair of pruners. Make sure to cut on a diagonal, which creates a greater surface area for better water uptake.
Cornus alba buds
To guard against rot, trim off any twigs or buds on the bottom 6 inches of the branches. Then do one of the following: either slit the branches in several directions at the ends or mash the branch ends against a hard surface. Both methods will cause the base of the branch to splay out and encourage it to draw up more water. It will also keep the branches fresher longer.
Submerge the branches overnight in cool to lukewarm water. (A bathtub works great.) This allows the branches and buds to more rapidly absorb water and begin to break dormancy.
The furry buds of pussy willow
The following day, remove the branches from their bath and place them upright in a bucket or vase. Next, add warm water no higher than a few inches. Place the branches in a cool location away from direct sunlight. (Warm temperatures may cause the buds to develop too rapidly or fall off.) To limit bacterial growth, make sure to change the water every few days.
Once the buds begin to show color, arrange the branches in your favorite container and place in a bright spot out of direct sunlight. This will encourage the best flower color to develop. And keep them away from heat sources. Spring flowering branches bloom longer in cooler temperatures.
FORCING BRANCHES CAN SPAWN NEW PLANTS
Sometimes during the forcing process, some branches will form roots. You can grow a new plant by removing the branch from water when the roots are approximately ½ inch long. Pot it up and trim the branch down to about 6 to 8 inches. When warmer weather arrives, plant it outdoors.
BEST FLOWERING BRANCHES TO FORCE
Forcing flowering branches takes time and is dependent on the species and when you cut them. Below are some typical favorites and the time it takes to force them. Bear in mind that this represents the long end of the scale, assuming you start cutting in February. Remember, you can shorten the forcing time by harvesting the branches closer to the plant’s natural bloom period.