How To Force Branches to Flower in Winter

In just a few weeks the daffodils and flowering magnolias will bloom, but not many other plants are brave enough to display their blossoms at this time of year. But with just a little patience and work, you can force Mother Nature’s hand to create bright blooms indoors before spring actually arrives.

You can  make branches of flowering shrubs bloom indoors before they would normally in your garden. If anything, this is even simpler than forcing bulbs. Mother Nature has completed the hard work by now. All you have to do is to convince the branches that spring has arrived!

BEST BETS Shrubs and trees that normally flower in early spring are the easiest to coax into color. Forsythia, willow, witchhazel, tulip magnolia and saucer magnolia are quick to respond. Once you have the hang of it, start a batch of Bradford pear, crabapple, spirea and dogwood branches.

Choose a mild afternoon to cut the branches. The buds will be full of moisture inside but dry on the outside. Use sharp pruners to cut branches 12 – 24 inches long . This can be part of your regular effort to thin your shrubs to allow more light into the center. Younger branches have more flower buds. Look for branches that have interesting curves. If you’re taking out an entire branch, make the cut close to the trunk so it can heal faster.

A GOOD HAMMERING Flower buds need plenty of water to start the process of opening. After cutting your branches, use a hammer to gently mash two inches of the cut end of each branch. The hammering doesn’t have to be vigorous. Just tap the wood enough to separate the bark and fibers. This will allow the branch to absorb plenty of moisture through the cut end.

A LONG SOAK Covering the buds overnight in room temperature water helps them break dormancy. A guest bathroom tub that is not used regularly is a perfect spot to submerge the branches completely for several hours. Afterwards, bring the branches out of the water, let them drain and stand them upright in a bucket of water.

A COOL WAIT Place your bucket of branches in a place that remains cool but has some sunlight. Again, an unused bathroom or guest bedroom is perfect. An unheated basement with sliding glass doors is also ideal. Examine your branches every few days. Only a week or so after you cut them, the buds will begin to swell. Two weeks after you cut them they will be ready to burst.

A WARM ROOM When color appears in the buds, it is time to arrange them in a vase. Don’t wait until the blossoms are fully opened. Use greenery from aucuba, mahonia or magnolia plants for a glossy background. Take the arrangement into a warm room and wait. Within a day or so the flower buds will unfurl along the formerly bare branches and you’ll have a great looking arrangement while it is still cold outside.

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