Forcing Branches For an Early Spring

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Forced forsythia (Forsythia cv)  branches

Spring isn’t coming around fast enough for you? Well, you can make it happen much earlier by forcing branches from trees and shrubs in order to get them to bloom extra early indoors.

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Pussywillows (Salix spp.) are especially easy to force.

The technique is suitable for all spring-flowering trees and shrubs, but especially for those that naturally bloom very early in the garden, such as pussywillows, forsythias, serviceberries, star magnolias, Russian almonds and fruit trees (apples, plums, cherries, etc.), as they are ready to force as soon as their buds begin to swell just a bit, usually by late February. Also, they bloom very quickly when you force them, in a week or less.

In comparison, the buds of late-spring bloomers, such as lilacs, rhododendrons, honeysuckles and garland spireas, often only begin to swell in March or even April and require at least two weeks of forcing before they’ll bloom.

Doing the Deed

Forcing branches is a snap.

Simply harvest branches with flower buds (easy to recognize because they are larger than leaf buds) with pruning shears and soak them in a bathtub of cold water so they can thaw out gently. After 2 or 3 hours of this “conditioning”, recut the stem ends (this is in case they were blocked by hardened sap during harvesting) and use pruning shears to split the base of the stem about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length and thus increase the surface through which they can absorb water. (Some gardeners prefer to lightly mash the stem ends with a hammer to achieve the same result.)

Now place the branches in a vase filled with fresh water, change the water daily… and soon you’ll have a bouquet of beautiful spring flowers!20170221a

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