Forcing Branches Indoors – A How To Tutorial

Forcing Branches Indoors
Cheery Forsythia Branches Forced Indoors

Now’s the time to enjoy a spring preview of flowering branches! So good for the soul … just prune non-essential branches of spring-flowering trees such as forsythia and pussy willow and place in a vase. Watch them unfold and bring outside cheer inside!

This age-old practice, called “forcing branches indoors” brings the color and beauty of blooms inside to cheer up those late winter – early spring blahs.

When Should You Force Branches?

When should you force branches to flower? Well, we’re usually in the mood in March or early April, once the shrubs 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.

Sound hard to do? Nope, it’s really easy! All you need is a pair of clean, sharp pruners (and a spring-flowering tree or shrub). No special expertise is required.

Does Forcing Branches Indoors Harm the Tree or Shrub?

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 / early spring pruning that’s essential at this time of year.

If you have pussy willows, they are a great choice for forcing indoors. They don’t require water, and they last for ages. (Tip: Wait until the downy catkins have broken out of their casings.)

Forcing Branches Indoors
Pussy Willows at Their Peak

How To Prune Branches:

1. Choose a day when the temperature is above freezing. The milder temperatures help ease the transition the plants must make from outdoors to indoors.

2. Select branches that are not essential to the form of your shrub or tree. Opt for a branch in a crowded section, and towards the back of the plant.

3. Prune a 1 to 2 foot-long length of branch. Choose a branch with lots of buds, preferably with very small buds that are beginning to open. (Tip: the flower buds are generally fatter and more rounded than leaf buds.)

Remember proper pruning! Cut branches on the diagonal. Steeply-angled cuts ensure better water uptake.

It also helps to slightly “bruise” the cut ends: Crush the stem ends with a small hammer; they’ll soak up the water faster.

How To Force Branches To Bloom:

1. Once you’re inside, set the branches in a vase of room temperature water overnight. Cut slits from the cut up the branch for several inches to promote water uptake. (Make sure the vase or vessel won’t tip with the heavy branches.)

2. Keep container in a bright room away from heaters and direct sun. The brighter the room, the better the quality of bloom.

3. Recut the ends using a slanting cut the next day.

4. Change the water every few days so the branches don’t rot from build-up of bacteria forming. Mist daily.

5. Flowers should appear in a few weeks. Once blooms appear, display in a warm area and enjoy!

Forcing Branches Inside: A Few Tips

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.

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. I also like to mist them so they don’t dry out.

Once you have mastered forsythia or pussy willow … try your hand at forcing quince, apple, flowering crabapple, cherry, plum, star magnolia, pear, dogwood, spirea, or peach blossoms. Whatever it takes to keep us sane until warmer spring makes its long awaited arrival!

Personally, I like to bring in branches just before they are about to bloom outdoors. If the temperature is already rising and you see that the buds are beginning to swell, snip the branches and they should flower in a few days. Instant gratification!

Arrange flowering branches in narrow-necked vases, bottles, or mason jars (a wide neck will not hold the arrangement upright). Large branches look stunning in glass juice bottles, urns, or growlers from your favorite brewpub. Use as a centerpiece or as an interesting natural accent in your living space.

Try your hand at forcing branches indoors! You’ll enjoy a lovely touch of spring …
Lovely Crabapple Flowering Branches

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