Why wait for spring when you can enjoy it in late winter? Forcing flowering trees and shrubs to bloom is as easy as 1-2-3. All you have to do is cut a few branches, bring them indoors and follow the instructions below.
HARVESTING THE FORCE OF NATURE
By mid February, many spring-flowering trees and shrubs are thick with buds. However, though they may have broken dormancy, they’ve only just resumed growing. Unfortunately for the winter-weary, this means that most are still weeks away from flowering.
Happily, forcing their branches can speed up the process.
The time it takes to force flowering branches is dependent on the species and can take anywhere from two to five weeks. Early spring bloomers like forsythia, star magnolia, quince, witch hazel and pussy willow, for instance, are typically the fastest to flower. Cherry and dogwood tree branches, however, can take up to four weeks to develop. A lot depends on when you cut them. And in general, trees take longer than shrubs to force.
HINT: The closer to a plant’s natural bloom time you harvest, the less time it will take to force its branches to flower indoors.
A GUIDE TO FORCING FLOWERING BRANCHES
Start by selecting a few medium-sized branches with lots of plump buds that look ready to open. Then 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 water uptake.
Cornus alba buds
To protect your flowering branches from rot, remove any twigs or buds from the bottom 6 inches of the stem. 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 branch fresher longer.
Submerge the branches overnight in cool to lukewarm water. (A bathtub works great.) This enables the branches and buds to more rapidly absorb water and to begin breaking their winter 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 a container and place them in a bright spot away from direct sunlight. This will encourage the best flower color to develop. Always make sure to keep them away from heat sources. Spring-flowering branches bloom longer in cooler temperatures.
FORCING BRANCHES CAN SPAWN NEW PLANTS
Occasionally when flowering branches are being forced, some will start sprouting roots. You can sometimes grow a new plant by potting them up and trimming them down to about 6 to 8 inches. When warmer weather arrives, plant them outdoors.
MOST POPULAR BRANCHES FOR FORCING
Below are some of the more popular flowering branches for forcing and the time it takes to force them indoors. Bear in mind that this represents the long end of the scale, assuming you start cutting your branches in February. Remember, you can shorten the forcing time by harvesting the branches closer to the plant’s natural bloom period.
Embellish your arrangements with foliage from large-leaved evergreens like mahonia, aucuba or magnolia for a stunning composition Just as in nature, these species are natural complements to all spring-flowering branches.