Along the Garden Path: Forcing branches into early bloom


Spring has not officially arrived as we still have more days of snow, sleet, rain, mud and slush.

We’re starting to see some forced branches appear at grocery stores and other box stores. Although they look like a breath of spring, they appear to be too far out and will not last very long once you get them home and into a vase. Instead of buying a flower bouquet to lift the spirits in winter, simply prune a (non-essential) branch of a spring-flowering tree for natural beauty!

We are seeing the stirrings of daffodils peaking out of the ground, and it makes us anxious for spring. It is still weeks away from true warmer weather when we start to spot the apple blossoms, the forsythia and lilacs.

You can easily force branches of your favorite bloom inside your house and brighten your rooms considerably.

The best timing is to wait until mid-March or later. First, the plant needs to be out of its dormancy phase. Second, the closer the ornamental is to its real blooming time, the less time you have to wait for forced blossoms. For the best results, remember to mimic springtime. Warmth is important, but not too fast or the flowers will get stunted and the colors faint. Humidity is also important. Forsythia and pussy willow generally take only one to three weeks to force. Flowering fruits like apple, crabapple and cherry can take up to four weeks; lilacs can take five. Who doesn’t appreciate the sweet smell of the lilac? The smell of springtime could hardly be lovelier.

You need a pair of clean, sharp scissors or pruners and your favorite spring-flowering tree or shrub! Choose a day when the temperature is above freezing. The milder temperatures help ease the transition the plants must make from outdoors to indoors.

Select branches that are not essential to the form of your shrub or tree, in a crowded section, and towards the back of the plant.

Cut medium-sized branches with lots of buds, preferably buds that are beginning to open. Remember to cut branches on the diagonal. Once inside, split open the stem bottom with sharp scissors or pruners about 1 inch. If it’s a woody stem, it helps to “bruise” the cut ends of the stem. Simply crush the stem ends with a small hammer and they will soak up water faster.

Remove any buds or twigs that would be under water to prevent rot. Sometimes the buds are stubborn and take longer to open. Occasionally some buds don’t respond even to the tenderest loving care … but you can almost be certain you’ll be rewarded with bright green foliage for your efforts.

Set the branches in a vase or vessel of warm water for a few hours. Make sure it won’t tip with the heavy branches.

Place in a cool location away from direct sunlight. Higher temperatures will cause the buds to develop rapidly, but you’ll sacrifice its size, color and quality. Branches need light for forcing, but not direct sunlight. Heat from direct sun is too intense and often drying. Remember, they need springtime, not summer, conditions to bloom. Change the water two-three times a week.

Once the blooms appear, display and enjoy!

By Charlene Thornhill

Along the Garden Path

Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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