The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Bring Spring Closer By Forcing Branches Indoors

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

If you need to see a few emerging leaves and flowers, than try forcing (or is it coaxing?) some spring flowering trees and shrubs into early bloom. Early spring flowering trees and shrubs develop their flower buds during the fall of the previous year. Once late January rolls around most woody plants have gone through enough cold period to break dormancy. I know I have.

Success in forcing branches depends on the plant type, stage of dormancy and how close to their normal flowering time they are forced. The closer to normal flowering time that forcing takes place, the greater degree of success.

Start by selecting and cutting 12-inch long branches with many plump buds. The larger, rounded buds tend to be flower buds. Younger branches usually have more flower buds. Cut a few extra branches since some may not absorb water satisfactorily. Use sharp pruners and keep in mind the ultimate shape of the shrub or tree. Use good pruning techniques by not leaving branch stubs.

Indoors, recut stems one inch from the base. With pruning shears or a sharp knife, carefully split the cut end, one to four inches up the stem. Some people prefer smashing the ends with a hammer. Place stem in water immediately. Ideally submerge branches in bath tub overnight. Be sure to remove before bathing.

If soaking isn't an option, place cut ends into buckets of water and wrap with wet towels overnight.

After soaking, place cut branches in a container of warm water and in a cool place (60–65°F). High temperatures tend to cause the buds to drop. Be sure to remove any buds and twigs that will be under water.

Change the water every few days. Adding a floral preservative to the water will help to control bacteria. Be patient. It may take one to eight weeks for the blossoms to open. The closer to the natural flowering time that you cut the branches, the faster the buds will develop.

In March, try forcing the branches of some trees not normally considered for their flowers such as red maple, hickory and oak. The young developing leaves can be very beautiful. Be sure to save a few branches of your apple tree trimmings for forcing indoors.

Here are a few favorites for forcing: Redbud, Japanese or Flowering Quince, Flowering Dogwood, Vernal Witch Hazel, Hawthorn, Forsythia, Honeysuckle, Saucer Magnolia, Star Magnolia, Apple and Crabapple, Flowering Almond, Cherry & Plum, European Pussy Willow (willow will also form roots for new plants), Spirea, Lilac, Viburnum, and Serviceberry.

Need something more to chase away the winter blues? Why not spend the day dreaming and learning about gardening at the University of Illinois Extension Garden Day on Saturday, February 24, 2001 from 8:30am-4:00pm at the Park Inn in Urbana, Illinois. The University of Illinois Extension of Champaign County is sponsoring a full day of gardening workshops for the novice or the well-callused gardener.

The keynote speaker will be Barbara Damrosch, internationally known author and garden personality. She wrote such books as The Garden Primer and Theme Gardens. Additional highlights of Garden Day include programs on new perennials, ornamental grasses, low maintenance landscaping, hardy roses, beautiful veggies, and uncommonly good trees.

If garden design has you mystified, then check out the program on Simple Successful Garden Design by author and landscape designer, Janet Macunovich.

For the $60 registration fee, Garden Day participants will enjoy five garden programs, handouts from all the speakers, book signing, numerous door prizes, displays and a luncheon with the speakers. Pre-registration is required. For more information or a registration brochure, contact the Champaign County Extension office at 217-333-7672.

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