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Over the Garden Fence

Forcing Branches into Bloom

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

Most of the spring blooming shrubs and small ornamental trees in the home landscape already have their flower buds ready to go right now. The flower buds were created last summer and have overwintered protected by insulating bud scales. As cabin fever has just about hit the peak for a lot of us, consider bringing a bit of spring indoors early. We have had enough cold weather to trigger bloom if those branches are cut and brought indoors. Choose branches that have a lot of flower buds. Flower buds are usually bigger, rounder and plumper than the green vegetative buds that will produce the leaves.

You can remove branches from the side or the backside of shrubs or trees and the cuts will go unnoticed when the plant naturally blooms later this spring. One trick to be sure the flower buds open quickly is to wrap the branches in moist toweling to soften the bud scales for a two or three days. This will help them open quickly once you place them in water. When you are ready to force the blooms, those cut ends will need to be crushed or shredded, so they will not begin to heal over naturally. That would depending on the plants. Forsythia and Amelanchier will be the quickest, about a week. A caution this year is to take forsythia branches that have been covered in snow because the cold weather has likely damaged or killed flower buds above the snow line. Pussy willow and Redbuds take about two weeks and Magnolia, Flowering Almond and Honeysuckle take 3 weeks. Crabapple, Lilac, Cherry, large growing Spirea and Pear take the longest at four weeks.

The best temperatures to force flowers may be a bit cool for us. 60 to 70 degrees is the preferred range. You can force them in a large bucket elsewhere in the home like a backroom room or on a cooler windowsill until they start to bloom and then bring them into a warmer location in your favorite vase or arrangement. Once in bloom they will stay attractive for five to seven days. If you go out and cut branches every few days repeating the forcing procedure, you can have continuous bloom inside over many weeks. Use a variety of plants to create a colorful bloom show or mix a bouquet of flowers from the store with your woodier stems to provide height and texture changes in the arrangement.

Plan to change out the water every couple of days to avoid smelly odors in the home. Nothing worse than seeing a vase full of beautiful blooms that smells as you get close enough to enjoy the fragrance of the flowers.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.