Forcing Branches: Bringing a Touch of Spring Indoors

For me, one of the hardest parts about spring (besides keeping the mudroom clean) is the endless waiting for it to get here. The arrival of March (at least here in zone 4) brings the first few promises of spring-the sun is noticeably higher in the sky and the snow at the base of neighborhood trees is starting to recede. Too bad March also brings a huge case of 'garden fever.' The cure? Forcing spring branches may be just what the doctor ordered.



The process of cutting and forcing woody branches is a simple one. Pick a warm, sunny day approximately 6 to 8 weeks before the branches would naturally bloom to cut them. Not only will the warm temperatures be more comfortable for you, but it will also get the sap running in the branches, making them more 'awake'. Using a very sharp scissors or shears, select 4 to 5 branches with plenty of buds, and prune them to a length of 1 to 2 feet (1 to 2 year-old branches generally have the most buds).


Submerge the branches for 2 hours in a sink filled with lukewarm water. Soaking them will help loosen up the bud scales and wash away any remaining dirt and debris. After soaking them, trim away 2-3 cm from the cut end of the branches at an angle, and use a rock or other heavy object to gently crush the end (this will encourage increased water uptake). Over the next few weeks, you may need to trim the ends again to keep the water uptake flowing smoothly.



What to do with the branches next is somewhat open to debate. Some gardeners like to arrange their branches in a vase immediately, thus preventing the disturbance of the delicate buds when they open later on. Others keep their branches in a bucket until they open, and then move them to a vase. Personally, I like the look of sparse branches even before they bloom, so after a few transitional days in a darker room, I usually move them to a room with brighter light to display them right away. In any event, be prepared to exercise a few more weeks of patience before you see any buds start to pop.


Some gardeners also store branches covered with ventilated plastic wrap to keep them moist, while others mist them daily with a squirt bottle. The important thing to remember is to keep the branches (and swelling buds) from completely drying out. This means keeping them away from heat vents and out of direct sunlight, ensuring that they take up adequate water and that the buds stay somewhat moist. An ideal room temperature for forcing is about 65-70 º F and water in the vase or bucket should be hanged every 3-4 days (or when it becomes cloudy). Adding a few drops of mouthwash, bleach or a packet of flower preservative to the water will also help retard bacteria growth.


Timing Is Everything

Mother nature can't be rushed, but the closer you cut your branches to their natural bloom time, the more quickly they will open. The amount of time necessary for forcing depends on many things: last year's moisture levels, the period of dormancy needed, light, temperature, and the plant's own hormones. In general, pussy willows and forsythia are usually the earliest to emerge (in 2-6 weeks).

Good Candidates for Forcing

  • azaleas
  • beauty bush
  • beech
  • birch
  • cherry
  • crab apple
  • dogwood*
  • flowering quince
  • flowering almond
  • forsythia
  • honeysuckle
  • lilac
  • magnolia*
  • peach
  • pear (beware of their fishy odor)
  • pieris
  • plum
  • pussy willows (once open, move to dry vase)
  • redbud
  • red maples
  • rhododendron
  • service berry
  • spirea
  • witch hazel

* More difficult to force.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at


March 14, 20080 found this helpful

Thank you so much for this info I just received my spring order and I had to start 17 trees in doors due to weather. They all looked dead but now I can see it just takes a little while for things to open up thanks for the tips.

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