Force Branches for Winter Blooms
Once the holiday season has passed, the sight of crispy brown leaves, frosty grass, and hazy gray skies may leave you feeling down. This is the time to force branches for winter blooms and bright up those cold, dreary days! Forcing is the technical term for encouraging plants to bloom ahead of their normal cycle. This technique allows you to enjoy flowers indoors, many weeks before they start blooming outdoors.
There are many types of spring-flowering shrubs and trees that will bloom indoors. These include forsythia, willow, fothergilla, witch hazel, pear, and quince. Branches from these plants can be brought into bloom once they have been exposed to at least eight weeks of temperatures below 40°F. When branches are cut in early winter, they generally take 2-4 weeks to bloom indoors. Branches harvested in late winter/early spring may only take a week to flower.
How to Force Branches Indoors
Select branches that have plump, healthy buds and, if possible, are showing some color. Use sharp pruners to cut long stems and immediately bring them indoors. Fill a vase with warm water and add a floral preservative to prolong the vase life. Give the branches a fresh, angled cut before placing them into water. Then set the vase in a bright, warm location out of direct sunlight. Most importantly, change the water every few days to keep it full and fresh at all times.
Extending the Flower Show
Once the flowers begin opening, move the vase to a cool location out of direct sunlight. If the branches are kept in a cool room, the flowers can last for 7-10 days.
When forcing willow and forsythia, you may find the branches sprout roots while they are in the vase. This opens the door for easy propagation! To turn these rooted branches into shrubs, cut off the top of the stems so the branches are about 8 inches tall. Plant the rooted cuttings in pots filled with moist potting soil and put them near a window. Keep the soil evenly moist while more roots are forming. Once all danger of frost has passed, you can plant your free shrubs into the garden.
Top Shrubs for Winter Forcing
Forsythia: Nothing says spring like the bright yellow blooms of forsythia. This is among the easiest and earliest branch you can force, and a large display of these golden flowers is sure to brighten up a cold, winter day.
Willow: A handful of silvery willow catkins will cheer up any room. Once the catkins emerge, it’s best to dump out the water and display your branches as dried flowers. If you leave the branches in water, the catkins will begin to release pollen, and the branches will leaf out and form roots.
Quince: Quince is the queen of flowering branches, and a vase filled with these stunning blooms will always steal the show. Quince branches that are harvested in winter, with immature buds, will give you flowers that are paler in color than what you would normally get outdoors. If you wait and cut the branches after the buds are mature and show some color, you’ll enjoy the same vibrant blooms as outdoors.
Serviceberry: Serviceberry trees (also known as shadbush and Amelanchier) produce clusters of white spring flowers that turn into delicious summer berries. The birds quickly devour these tasty treats before the foliage turns a vibrant orange or red in fall. When harvesting branches from serviceberry and any other fruit-producing tree, it’s important to follow proper pruning practices. Take care to cut branches back to the main stem and avoid leaving behind nubs that can cause the tree to produce water sprouts.
In addition to the branches mentioned above, cherry, peach, plum, and magnolia also force beautifully indoors. If you are pruning trees or thinning shrubs this winter, why not bring some of the trimmings indoors? You can enjoy watching them come into flower while you wait for spring to arrive!