Force Branches to Bloom Indoors: A How To Guide

forcing branches for spring holidaysForcing some flowering branches into bloom on the credenza or dinner table is a great way to get a jump on spring color. “Forcing” is a term used to describe creating an environment where flowered branches or bulbs bloom in the “off season,” or earlier than expected. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to coax shrub and tree cuttings to bloom indoors and ahead of schedule.

Forego the expense of supermarket daffodils and tulip bunches and raid your yard for a tabletop bouquet. While spring-flowering shrubs add value to the yard when things are looking quite dreary, bringing flowering branches indoors makes them somewhat exotic. The closer it is to the normal time that a tree or shrub blooms, the quicker it will burst into flower indoors. It may take a few weeks, but if the branch is already in full bud, then flowers may open in as little as a week.

Make sure to consider the full effect that the missing branches will have on backyard specimens. But late winter happens to be the perfect time to prune deciduous shrubs and trees anyway, so this presents a great opportunity. Crossed branches and those that are less than 1/2 inch in diameter and at least 12 inches long are good candidates.

Collect the branches on a warmer day and be sure to use a clean, sharp pruning knife or set of clippers. Select branches that already have plump flower buds, and avoid those that are brown, dried or have burned due to the recent snowy weather.

forcing crab apple branches in spring indoors

Check to make sure that the buds are flower, and not leaf buds. Cut branches flush to the main stem, place them in a bucket of warm water, and bring them indoors immediately. Recut the stems at an angle under a sink full of very hot water. This helps the cut branches to take up the most water.

Once indoors, the goal is to mimic the conditions of cool, moist spring weather. Place the bucket in bright but indirect light and keep it where air temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees F. Arrange the branches in a vase immediately, or when they swell and start to show some color. Change the water daily, and mist twice a day.

forcing honeysuckle branches early spring indoors

Here’s a short list of some shrubs and trees to cut now. These have the shortest lead times for forcing for holiday entertaining (Easter and Passover):

  • Apples, Crabapples (Malus spp.)
  • Dogwood (Cornus spp.)
  • Fothergilla (Fothergilla spp.)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)
  • Pussy willow (Salix discolor)
  • Serviceberry (Amalanchier spp.)

Woody ornamental shrub and tree cuttings can make a dramatic centerpiece for the dining table when little else is available in the garden. The color and fragrance of these flowering branches will enliven the indoors while winter weather still threatens outside!

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