Why wait for spring when you can force it to come early indoors? Spring flowering trees and shrubs are a ‘natural’ for forcing. Why? Because their buds formed in the fall before they went dormant. Once they’ve been chilled long enough, they’re ready to cut. And for many of us, that time is now.
How long does it take?
Depending on the species, branches can take 2 to 5 weeks to flower indoors. Forsythia, quince, witch hazel and pussy willow are the fastest to bloom at approximately 2 weeks. Cherry and dogwood tree branches, however, can take up to 4 weeks 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 them indoors.
HOW TO FORCE BRANCHES
Start by selecting a few healthy, medium-sized branches with lots of buds. The buds should be plump and look like they’re almost ready to open. Cut the branches from the tree or shrub using a clean pair of pruners, making sure to cut on a diagonal.
Cornus alba buds
Remove any twigs or buds on the bottom 6 inches of the branches to prevent rot. 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 quickly 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.) Change the water every few days to limit bacterial growth.
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 away from heat sources. Spring flowering branches bloom longer in cooler temperatures.
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 spring-flowering branches to force and when
Here are a few favorites and the time it takes to force them. This is the long end of the scale, assuming you started cutting some in February. Remember, you can shorten the time it takes to force by harvesting the branches closer to their natural bloom period.