Forcing Flowering Branches

Puxatony Phil says “Six more weeks of winter!” What does he know anyway? We can still have spring indoors without waiting another long six weeks for it to show-up outdoors.
Basically, you are tricking your spring-flowering trees and shrubs into thinking it’s springtime in the winter. You literally are bringing cut branches from flowering trees and shrubs inside for them to bloom indoors much earlier than normal and February is the best time to do this. Below are some guidelines for forcing branches.
*  Wait until the outdoor temperature is above freezing to cut your branches.
*  Choose branches that are heavily laden with flower buds (you can tell flower buds and leaf buds apart by the larger size of the flower bud) and cut the branches about 1 to 3 feet long, using sharp pruning shears or a knife. Remember not to disfigure the ornamental. You still want it to look pretty in spring.
*  After bringing the branches inside re-cut the stems to ensure air hasn’t blocked the cut end.  If the stems are woody then, gently mash the ends with a hammer. Remove any buds or twigs that will be underwater to prevent rot.
*  Place in a vase of warm (not hot) water. Place in a cool location away from direct sunlight.  Higher temperatures will cause the buds to develop rapidly, but you’ll sacrifice size, color and quality. Branches need light for forcing, but not direct sunlight or high heat. Remember, they need springtime not summer conditions to bloom. Change water 2-3 times a week.
*  After the buds have started opening, place your branches anywhere you wish.
Generally speaking forsythia and pussywillow branches take 1 to 3 weeks to force. Flowering fruits like apple, crabapple and cherry can take up to 4 weeks. Lilac can take 5.
Some local favorites you may want to try:
*Redbud, flowering quince, flowering dogwood, hawthorn, forsythia, honeysuckle, apple and crabapple, pussy willow, lilac, flowering cherry, fothergilla and spirea.
Don’t limit yourself to flowering shrubs and trees. Ordinary non-flowering trees and shrubs can also be forced. Red maples create bright scarlet buds along their gray branches. Birch trees produce long, fuzzy catkins followed by tiny new bright green leaves. Weeping willow branches make wonder drooping chartreuse switches.
Have fun on these winter days and force a mixture of flowering and non flowering branches in creative arrangements.

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