Generations of gardeners have “forced branches” in winter, bringing the beauty of forsythia, pussy willow, and other spring-flowering blossoms indoors for winter color and fragrance. 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. The numbers in the chart below indicate the approximate number of weeks that the branches will take to flower indoors. Among our favorites for forcing are Forsythia (pictured above), Witch Hazel, Magnolia, Red Bud, Crab Apple, flowering Quince, flowering Cherry, and Cornelian Cherry Dogwood.
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.)
Not all branches take the same amount of time to bloom when forced. As you approach spring, it may take less time to blossom. For example, a twig from a cherry tree may blossom after three to four weeks indoors, while a pussy willow takes only two weeks. In a mild winter, you may even find the buds are already blooming outside.
|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 Force Branches into Bloom
All you need is a pair of clean, sharp pruners (and a spring-flowering tree or shrub!)
- Usually, we go out into the garden in February or March, although you can start as early as January in some regions. Go any time after your trees and branches have had at least six weeks of chilling.
- 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.
- Cut medium-sized branches (at least one foot long) with lots of buds, preferably with very small buds that are beginning to open.
- 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.
- Once you’re inside, set the branches in a vase or vessel of warm water for a few hours. (Make sure it won’t tip with the heavy branches.)
- Keep in a sunny, cool spot (not on a radiator) and mist frequently.
- Change the water every few days so the branches don’t rot from build-up of bacteria forming.
- Once blooms appear, display in a warm area and enjoy!
Check out our article on forcing bulbs for early bloom indoors. Fill your home with flowers!