Forcing Flowering Branches of Woody Trees and Shrubs

With the recent snowfall, I am even more desperate for the first signs of spring. Many others are impatient as I am for a few spring blooms. Yet, we can fool a few woody trees and shrubs to bloom prematurely indoors under the right conditions.

Late winter is a great time to collect branches of pussy willow, forsythia, flowering quince, crabapple, magnolia, redbud, serviceberry, and fruit trees to force into bloom indoors. Woody plants have met their dormancy requirements and are just waiting for the right conditions to bloom.

Select branches that are least 1 foot long with many enlarged buds. Flower buds are often larger than vegetative buds. The flower buds on magnolia are large and fuzzy in comparison to vegetative buds. For other plants like serviceberry, there is little difference in bud size between flower and vegetative buds.

After collecting branches, place them in a bucket of warm water in a 60 F location with indirect light. Check the branches frequently; they will need regular misting to prevent buds from drying out. Change the water often. As the flower buds begin to show color, move them to a brighter location. Cooler temperatures (around 65F) will prolong the blooming period.

Branches that are collected in late winter will open rather quickly in comparison to those that were collected in January. Some woody branches will take up to three weeks to bloom, while others will flower in a week or less. Forsythia and pussy willow will bloom quickly. Magnolia and crabapple will take longer to bloom indoors.

No matter how long it takes, this is a great way to have a few blooms indoors for all those gardeners waiting for the arrival of spring.

This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2002 issue, p. 24.


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