Punxsutawney Phil says “Six more weeks of winter!” What does he know, anyway?
Why wait six long weeks for it to happen outside when we can have spring indoors! How? Basically, you’re going to be tricking your spring-flowering trees and shrubs into thinking it’s springtime. You are literally bringing branches of flowering trees and shrubs inside for them to bloom indoors much earlier than normal. 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 shrub or tree your cutting. 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 weeks.
Some local favorites you may want to try:
- Flowering quince
- Flowering dogwood
- Apple and crabapple
- Pussy willow
- 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 wonderful drooping chartreuse switches.
Have fun on these seemingly endless winter days, bring Spring inside your home and try to force a mixture of flowering and non-flowering branches. This project will make creative indoor arrangements for you to enjoy while waiting for these endless “six weeks” to be up!