The steps to force branches from spring flowering trees and shrubs are surprisingly simple and easy to follow. Forcing is the technique of creating an indoor environment that simulates spring climate conditions outside. Watching the flower buds open and new leaves emerge at an indoor window sill, is thrilling and sure to chase away any late winter ‘blahs’!
Easy Steps to Ensure Success
Trees and shrubs are plants with woody stems and branches. Many of these plants form their spring flower buds in the previous year before entering winter dormancy. The majority of spring flowering trees and shrubs require at least two months of consistently cold weather before they can be brought out of this dormancy and forced into early flowering.
Branches from most spring-flowering woody plants can be coaxed into flowering at least six weeks before of their normal bloom time. The best time to cut branches is on a winter day with a higher than normal outside temperature (preferably above freezing). If you have hired Cohen and Master for winter property work, consider asking them to set aside any small spring flowering tree and shrub branches for indoor forcing. The branches should be cut, if possible, to a minimum length of at least 30 cm.
Select branches with many visible plump, emerging flower buds. With a sharp knife split the end of the cut twig or branch from 5-8 cm deep. Rotate the branch 90 degrees and make a second split of similar depth in a cross pattern.
If possible, it is best to completely submerge all the branches in a bathtub or large container of warm water overnight. This extended soaking can enable the twigs and branches to quickly break dormancy.
After submerging overnight, remove the branches and trim about 2 cm off each end. Place the branches upright in a container of warm water about 10 cm deep. Remove any buds that are below the container water level to prevent rotting and bacteria development. Mist with water and enclose the branches in a clear or dark plastic bag. Enclosing the branches increases the temperature and humidity inside the bag. This helps to accelerate the bud development and flowering process.
Place the bag of branches in a cool and dark location. On a regular basis check the container water level. Add water, if necessary, to maintain the desired depth. Also, at this time, continue to mist the branches. It can take several weeks for the buds to become very plump and elongated. Remove the plastic bag once the buds are ready to burst open. Move the branches in the container to a sunny winter window sill.
The buds should open in a couple of days. Congratulations, enjoy and take a ‘bough’ or two!
Note: Tree and Shrub Brach Selection for Forcing
Branches from spring flowering Forsythia are one of the earliest and easiest to force into bloom. The branches can be cut as early as the beginning of February.
Also, consider branches from fruit, Service Berry and Magnolia trees for easy forcing. Even shrubs such as Witch Hazel, Quince and Daphne branches can be cut as early as late February and will take 2-4 weeks to bloom.
Have fun with this new technique and I hope you are successful with forcing your branches to bloom indoors!
Joan de Grey Landscape Design
Want to know where to get your plant materials? Sheridan Nurseries has 8 great garden centers. Visit, a location, to purchase trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, plants, garden and home supplies.