The Art of Forcing Branches

Although it is by the calendar, spring, it still feels like winter to me and I do need a taste of spring.

Take a simple walk out to your yard or perhaps one of your neighbors will let you take a few branches from one of their flowering plants to bring indoors for ‘Forcing’. It’s the perfect way to bring both color and frangrance to our home in those quiet months between Christmas and spring.

Many spring flowering trees and shrubs can be encouranged to flower indoors before the ones outdoors do. Just about any woody deciduous shrub or tree that flowers in the early spring can be coaxed into flowering.  Good candidates include forsythia, flowering quince, cherry, plum, par, magnolia, and pussy willows.  Other fun plants to try here in New England are Fothergillas, Wich Hazels, Magnolias, Red Twig Dogwood, Quinces, Serviceberries, Birches, Beeches, Eastern Redbud, Rhododendrons, and even Filberts for the catkins.

It is quite simple and straightforward. Just cut a few branches, bring indoors, and place in a bucket of warm water (100 to 110 degrees F), and set aside.  Select good branches in late winter when the buds swell and watch while the buds suddenly burst with color.

Here Are a Few Guidelines For Forcing Branches

  1. Try to pick a day when the temperature is above freezing and while the plants are still dormant
  2. Make a fresh cut on the slected branch with clean sharp pruners.  Try to find branches with many flower buds.  These are larger than the leaf buds.  Be sure to make a clean cut so as not to damage the shrub or tree.
  3. Tie the branches together and bring indoors.
  4. Bring the branches indoors and split the bottom of the cut branch with a sharp knife or scissors or your pruners about one inch up the stem.  If the stem is hard to cut you can gently mash the ends with a hammer.
  5. Remove any twigs that might be under the water so they will not rot.
  6. Select a vase and fill a few inches with warm (not hot) water.  Add a tablespoon of bleach to keep the water bacteria-free and also add a touch of flower food.  Here are some at-home preservatives – 1 tablespoon of Listerine or 1 tablespoon of lemon-lime soda per quart of water works just fine….
  7. Place the branches in the vase and set the vase in a cool location with plenty of light – away from direct sunlight and high temperatures.
  8. You can cover the branches with a plastic bag and mist them frequently to encourage sprouting.
  9. Once the blossoms are out, move the branches to a sunnier spot and enjoy.

Be patient – Forsythia and pussy willow usually take only one to three weeks to force, however, other flowering fruits like apple, crabaple,and cherry can often take up to four weeks.  Lilacs can take up to five.

March 26th (Week 0)  Collected cuttings of forsythia and pussy willow.  Late this year.                    

April 2nd (Week 1)  The pussy willow has popped and the forsythia buds are still full and just beginning.    

I will keep you updated as to what branches I bring in, and their development.  Let’s see which ones we are successful with.


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