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Forcing Branches To Bloom

March 20, 2012

Say hello to spring this year by cutting a few branches from flowering trees and coaxing them to bloom for you indoors. Many woody plants can be forced into early flowering early, including forsythia, pussy willow, fruits trees, witch hazel, spirea, quince, and even lilac.

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When to Collect Your Branches

Flowering trees need a dormant period of rest and cold before they will flower-most need at least 8 weeks. The length of dormancy needed varies by species, but cutting branches in early February will work for most. Early bloomers like forsythia and flowering quince can be cut in late January to early February. Later bloomers, like Crab Apple and Honeysuckle should be cut in from mid-March to early April. As with all tree species, the closer you cut them to their normal bloom time, the faster the branches will bloom indoors. Most will take between 2 to 5 weeks to force into bloom. For a succession of color, try cutting various branches over the course of several weeks.Here is a general guide of when branches should be cut:

Late January to early February: Cornelian cherry, forsythia, flowering quince, witch hazel, poplar, willow)

February: red maple, alder, birch, quince, cherry trees, rhododendrons and azaleas (later in the month), pussy willow and wintersweet.

Mid-March to early April: hawthorns, Honeysuckle shrubs, Callery pears, apple trees, crab apple trees, mock orange, oaks, lilacs (late March to early April), redbud, and spirea.

Forcing Branches to Flower in 5 Easy Steps

Gather the following supplies:
  1. Cut branches during the warmest part of a mild day, when buds have the most sap. Select several medium-size branches with well-formed buds and cut them diagonally above a bud in 2 to 3 foot lengths. Look for branches containing multiple new flower buds. They are typically plumper and rounder than the leaf buds, which are usually slim and pointy and positioned closer toward the stem.

  2. Slightly crush the ends of each of the stem to maximize their water uptake and remove the buds from the parts of the stems that will be underwater.

  3. Submerge the cut end of the stems in a pail of lukewarm water. Add a drop or two of chlorine bleach to prevent the growth of bacteria.

  4. Set the pail in a cool place (50 F to 65 F) for a week or two. Warmer temperatures may cause them to break dormancy too quickly and result in the flowers not opening properly. Change the water every 4 to 5 days.

  5. As soon as the buds start to swell, transfer the stems to your water-filled display container for arranging. Add fresh water and a floral preservative to extend their "vase life". Set the container in bright, but not direct sunlight (65 F to 70 F). The warmer the room, the faster the buds will open. For a longer display life, move the container to a cooler areas at night.

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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.

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