How to Force Branches for Spring Bloom

It takes just minutes to bring spring indoors a few weeks early!

Forsythia forced for early blooms“Forcing” is such an intimidating word for a process that’s so fun and easy. Basically, forcing a branch for spring flowering simply means cutting it a few weeks earlier than would normally blooming and bringing them indoors into the warmth, where they’ll bloom after a few days.

Good candidates for forcing include:

Pussy willow
Mock orange

Traditional wisdom on forcing suggests you soak all the branches in a tub (a bathtub, if they’re really long) of cold water overnight or for several hours. This is helpful, but I haven’t found mine need it.

Also, traditional wisdom suggests smashing or cutting the ends of the stems to improve their uptake of water, but I haven’t personally found that helps, and some believe it tends to foul the water.

But I do believe it helps to put them in a fairly tall deep vase so as much of the branch as is practical is submerged.

What time of year you choose to force branches depends on the type of branch. As a rule, I like to force branches 2 to 4 weeks or so before they’d normally bloom.  That means in late February I can force very early bloomers such as forsythia and pussy willow and in March I can force nearly everything else.

In April, you can force later bloomers, like lilac, azaleas, rhododendrons, and spirea, but frankly, by that time, I already have so many garden flowers I’m just not interested!

Remember that any branches you cut are “pruning cuts” that affect the overall shape of the plant, so make the cuts with care. If you need a quick review on pruning, click here for the basics and here for pruning small trees.

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