Do you have forsythia? Forcing branches into bloom inside can give you an early taste of spring while you are still in the midst of winter. Here are my photos showing you how to force forsythia in five steps. You can also force redbud, dogwood, magnolia, crabapple, pussy willow, and many other flowering branches.
Don’t worry. Cutting off a few branches to enjoy inside won’t hurt them a bit. Spring-flowering trees and shrubs set their flower buds the previous fall. Once the buds have been exposed to cold for several months (usually by mid-January), a branch can be cut and forced to bloom indoors.
Simply consider the shrub as if you were pruning. Look for crossing branches, suckers, or crowded spots—areas that won’t be missed. When selecting branches, choose healthy branches that are free from disease, insect and other injury. Cut the branch just above a side bud, being careful not to leave a stub.
When should you force flowers? We’re usually in the mood in February or March, once the shrub have gone through the winter and had their chilling requirements—and we are eager for spring’s arrival! Buds take from one to five weeks to open, depending on the plant you choose. The closer to the natural blooming time you cut the branches, the shorter the wait.
Since my forsythia bushes were not even close to blossoming, I cut a few branches to force inside so I could have a touch of the real thing.
Forsythia are one of the easiest of the spring flowering shrubs to trick into blooming indoors but this method works on others as well. Any tree or shrub that blossoms before their leaves emerge can be forced to flower inside; they just may take a little longer. Given plenty of moisture and the warmth of your house, they think spring has arrived and will burst into bloom. Just cut a few branches at least a foot long that have plenty of fat flower buds on them.
Soak the branches overnight in tepid water in the bathtub keeping the whole branch submerged.
After soaking, place them in a bucket of warm water, cover the tops loosely with a large, clear plastic bag, and put them in a cool spot, around 60 degrees.
At this stage they don’t need light and can be kept in any cool room or basement while the buds develop. Check them often, change the water, and mist the buds occasionally. They must not dry out or the buds will shrivel up instead of blooming.
It shouldn’t take much more than a week or two for the forsythia buds to start to elongate and show color. Now you can move them to a warmer spot, mist the buds, and arrange them in a vase.
When the flowers open bring them into a room with bright light and enjoy! Most forced branches last from 5 to 7 days. Keep the flowers out of direct sun and away from heat sources to prolong the bloom time. Once you have mastered forsythia try your hand at forcing quince, apple, flowering crabapple, cherry, plum, star magnolia, pear, dogwood, spirea, and peach blossoms. Whatever it takes to keep us sane until spring makes its long awaited arrival!
Read more about forcing branches of spring-blooming shrubs and trees.