Getting a jump on spring solor – forcing branches

By Ken Johnson

Despite some of the warmer temperatures we’ve been having this year, there is still some time before the warm temperatures become more permanent. To help get over your winter blues and bring some spring colors indoors, you can try forcing some spring flowering trees and shrubs to bloom early. Trees and shrubs that produce flowers in the spring produce their flower buds in the summer and, after they have had enough cold weather, are ready to bloom. Some good candidates are Forsythia, Redbud, Dogwoods, Hawthorn, Lilac and Viburnum. Even fruit trees like apples and peaches can be forced into blooming indoors.

When looking for branches to use, look for branches that have a lot of flower buds. Flower buds tend to be larger and plumper than leaf buds. Younger branches also tend to have more flower buds on them than older branches. Start by cutting branches 6 to 18 inches long. While doing this, make sure to use sharp pruners and good pruning techniques. Choose branches that will not adversely affect the shape of the plant or the plant’s spring flower display.

Once the branches are cut, bring them inside and recut the stems one inch from the base. Next, spilt the cut end one to four inches up the stem using pruning shears or a sharp knife. Alternatively you can smash the end with a hammer. Doing this will help the stems take up water and prevent the branches from healing over the cut. If you cut your branches when it was below freezing, submerge them in a bath tub or container in cool water for several hours or overnight (if they were cut when temperatures were above freezing this step can be skipped). This will prevent the buds from bursting prematurely.

Next, place your branches in a container so that they are upright and add warm water (around 110 F). Add enough water so that the split end of the branches are submerged. Make sure to remove any buds that are also submerged. Place the container in a cool (60- 70 °F), partially shaded location. Change the water every few days. If you want, you can add floral preservative to the water to help control bacteria in the water.

It can take from one to four weeks, depending on the species, for your blooms to begin to open. Once branches bloom, the blooms will generally last about a week depending on the conditions they are in. To prolong the life of your blooms, keep them in a cool location, especially during the evening, and out of direct sunlight. Warmer temperatures and direct sunlight can decrease the quality of the blooms as well as reduce their lifespan. To have a continual floral display, go out and prune branches every few days and repeat the above process. So, head outside and find some branches to bring indoors and get a jump on spring.

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