Enjoy a spring preview of flowering branches! Just prune non-essential branches of spring-flowering trees such as forsythia and pussy willow and place in a vase. This age-old practice, called “forcing branches,” brings the color and beauty of blooms inside to cheer up those late winter blahs. Here’s how to do it—plus, a list of trees and shrubs for forcing branches.
It’s easy! All you need is a pair of clean, sharp pruners (and a spring-flowering tree or shrub!). No special expertise is required.
You’ll be pruning the non-essential branches of spring-flowering trees, so don’t worry about hurting your shrub or tree. In fact, this will get you outside to do the late winter pruning that’s essential at this time of year. See our Spring Pruning Chart for Trees and Shrubs. (See more tips below the chart.)
Trees and Shrubs for Forcing Branches
Below is a list of best trees and shrubs that you would prune before bloom. The numbers in the chart below indicate the approximate number of weeks that the branches will take to flower indoors.
Note: Branches won’t flower until they’ve had a proper cold period, usually about six weeks.
January is a great time to force forsythias and witch hazels. By February, try eastern redbud, cherry, and red maples. By mid-to-late February, consider lilacs, honeysuckle, willows, and magnolias.
If you have pussy willows, they are a great choice for forcing indoors. They don’t require water, and they last for ages. (Wait until the downy catkins have broken out of their casings.)
|Tree or Shrub||Time to Bloom|
|Cornelian dogwood||2 weeks|
|Crab apple||4 weeks|
|Flowering almond||3 weeks|
|Flowering dogwood||5 weeks|
|Flowering quince||4 weeks|
|Horse chestnut||5 weeks|
|Pussy willow||2 weeks|
|Red maple||2 weeks|
|Red-twig dogwood||5 weeks|
*Note that the trees tend to be stubborn and their blossoms may not be as rewarding as those of the shrubs.
How to Prune Branches
All you need is a pair of clean, sharp pruners (and a spring-flowering tree or shrub!)
- Choose a day when the temperature is above freezing. The milder temperatures help ease the transition the plants must make from outdoors to indoors.
- Select branches that are not essential to the form of your shrub or tree, in a crowded section, and towards the back of the plant.
- Prune a 1 to 2 foot-long length of branch. Choose a branch with lots of buds, preferably with very small buds that are beginning to open. (The flower buds are generally fatter and more rounded than leaf buds.)
Remember proper pruning! Cut branches on the diagonal. Steeply-angled cuts ensure water uptake.
It helps to “bruise” the cut ends: Crush the stem ends with a small hammer; they’ll soak up the water faster.
How to Force Branches
- Once you’re inside, set the branches in a vase or vessel of room temperature overnight. Cut slits from the cut up the branch for several inches to promote water uptake. (Make sure the vase won’t tip with the heavy branches.)
- Keep vase in a bright room away from heaters and direct sun. The brighter the room, the better the quality of bloom.
- Recut the ends using a slanting cut the next day.
- Change the water every few days so the branches don’t rot from build-up of bacteria forming. Mist flowers.
- Flowers should appear in a few weeks. Once blooms appear, display in a warm area and enjoy!
Note: If it does not work the first time you try a plant, cut branches a few weeks later and try again.
Misted flowers and catkins can last for up to a week in a cool, 60 degree room. Branches with leaves may last longer.
Check out our article on forcing bulbs for early bloom indoors. Fill your home with flowers!