Gardening With What You Have

From Dormant To Delightful: How To Force Branches Into Blooms

Christine Froehlich 02/06/2019 Comments


This is the time of year when I start chomping at the bit for flowers. But unless I want to buy them or grow more flowering plants inside, I'm not likely to see them anytime soon. Pruning branches from some of my flowering shrubs seems like a good option - they need to be pruned anyway. Instead of tossing the prunings on the brush pile, I can bring them inside and force the branches into flower. Just about any flowering deciduous tree or shrub can be coaxed into bloom inside. 

 

Like this flowering pear tree I just pruned.

 

 

forced pear branch

 

This hedge of flowering quince that surrounds my yard is also a good  candidate - and there's a lot of it! Right now it looks like a bunch of sticks, but close up, I can see tiny buds.

 

Flowering Quince

 

It's easy to fool dormant branches into thinking it's spring.  All it takes is a pair of loppers, some sharp pruning shears, knowing what to cut and a little patience. Pick a day that's above freezing to  make your cuts - opening up a tree or shrub to freezing temperatures can cause damage. 

 

Before you start pruning, consider how much you can take off whatever specimen you're eying - don't lop off too much or you won't have any flowers in the spring. I like to be able to cut 6-8 branches of one variety. It's not worth it to do less than that and too few stems won't look like much in an arrangement. 

 

Some trees and shrubs are easier than others. If you want a succession of blooms inside, pick a couple of early varieties and some later ones. Here are some common varieties you can try.

 

Easy: 3 - 4 weeks. 

Flowering Quince, Forsythia,Honeysuckle, Redbud, Witchhazel, Apple, Pear or Cherry. Anything that would normally bloom in April or May will take less time to force.

 

Harder: 4 - 8 weeks

Viburnum, Dogwood, Lilac, Hawthorne, Azalea and Rhododendron would normally bloom from May to June, they're a little more stubborn because the buds are tighter.

 dormant viburnum

 

Later blooming varieties need more attention. 

Follow these steps:

  • Change water once a week - you should do this with earlier varieties too, but it's really crucial with late bloomers - you want them to take up as much moisture as possible so their buds will swell.
  • Recut branches and mist.
  • Add miracle gro or superthrive to stimulate bloom.
  • Keep in a warm, sunny room.

 

Tools you'll need:

  • Long handled loppers for cutting branches
  • Hand pruners for removing side growth
  • Large bucket or unbreakable container for water

Bring branches into bloom inside by mimicking spring conditions:

 

Step 1: Pick a day when the temperature outside is above freezing. Determine what you can cut without disfiguring your shrub. Prune branch from the apex of a main branch to avoid unsightly stubs.

 

 

Step 2: Prune side growth off the branch you cut so you can fit it into a container when you bring it inside. I do this outside because it's kind of a messy job. If I'm cutting more than one variety of shrub, I keep them in separate piles. It's easier to force the same ones together and makes arranging them easier.

 

 

 

Step 3: After you’ve cut all the branches you want, bring them into a garage, outdoor porch or somewhere you can work with them. It’s preferable to have a room that isn’t too warm - around 50 degrees.

 

Step 4: Fill a bucket (or buckets, depending on how many branches you have) halfway with lukewarm water. Cut the end of each branch at a 45 degree angle and immerse in the bucket – this opens up the tissues and allows branches to drink up water more efficiently. Don’t crowd them together too much, once they start budding out you might want to cut and rearrange them in a more attractive container. If they are too close together you’ll knock the buds off when you move them.

 

bucket for forcing branches

 

Step 5: Leave branches in a cool room away from sunlight for two weeks. You’ll see buds swelling slightly. Make sure to check water level (they suck it up quickly) and change weekly.

 

Step 6: After two weeks, bring branches inside to a warmer room (60 degrees or more) with some type of sunlight. Change the water and recut the bottom of each branch. Direct sunlight causes them to open faster, but it also can cause them to dry out. Mist varieties that take longer to open.

 

Step 7: Buds will continue to swell and open in 3-4 weeks depending on what variety of shrub it is. Cut and arrange branches before blossoms pop to avoid damaging them.

 

 

Arranging: Recut stems again before you arrange them. A vase of branches is pretty enough on its own, but adding branches that have bark with color or bulbs can really make it really special.

 

forced quince arrangement

 

Here are some shrubs to try: No need to do anything special - just cut as needed. The Red Twig Dogwood in my backyard is perfect.

 

red twig dogwood
Red Twig Dogwood

 Any tree or shrub with interesting bark will do. Here are a few others :

  • Yellow Twig Dogwood
  • Curly Willow
  • Birch
  • Corylus contorta (Contorted Fig)

If you want to a flashier arrangement, try forcing paperwhite narcissus along with the branches. The timing is about the same - paperwhites flower in about 4 weeks. Start them in a deep container, put pebbles in the bottom and fill up to the level of the bulb with water.

 

 

paper whites

 

Just before the paperwhites bloom, arrange the branches between the bulbs. Note - I didn't start mine in time for purposes of this photo, but I wanted you to see how it looks when it's put together.

 

 

forced quince

 

 

It's a perfect marriage - the paperwhites tend to get floppy, and the branches provide support. 

 

You could try this with daffodils or tulips as well. I couldn't resist buying these and sticking in a few branches.

 

forced daffodils and branches

 

It's an easy and cheap way to have flowers in the house during the winter - it just takes a little planning. Who says gardening has to stop in the winter? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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