Forcing Branches to Bloom Indoors

In the dark winter days, when it is too cold to step outside, we all crave a little color indoors. A great way to achieve this is by bringing branches and “force” them to bloom. “Forcing” is a term used in horticulture for plants to be what they are not. Forcing bulbs to bloom indoors is very common and it means months of cold stratification, planting, then watering, then growing. For branches forcing is a tad too strong a word. It just involves snipping flowering branches outdoors and bringing them in for them to bloom indoors.

The what: Any trees and shrubs that flowers in spring are good for forcing indoors. Make sure not to prune off too much, to avoid hurting the host tree or shrub and losing blooms outdoors in spring. I have had good luck forcing blooms on forsythia, plum, and lilac branches.

The when: You should take the cuttings to force in late winter, after at least 4-6 weeks of cold weather. The buds on most flowering trees and shrubs form the previous year and and breaks dormancy in warm weather. So when the branches are brought indoors, the warm indoor temperature forces them to break dormancy and bloom. I bring my cuttings indoors in late January.

The how: Cut branches using clean pruners and make the cut at the base of the stem. You will cut just at the top of the branch collar, a widened part of the branch where it joins the larger branch or trunk. Do not leave stubs (a length of branch that bears no buds) or tear the branch off. Both of these are damaging to the tree or shrub you are hoping to keep in your garden! I take the cuttings off the tress and shrubs that I want to prune for better shape and health of the plant. After taking the cuttings, make sure that they are clean (no spider webs!!), bring the cut branches into the house, put them in water, and set them in a cool, shady location so they can gradually warm up to the indoor temperatures. It may take a few weeks for them to bloom, but you will be enjoying their blooms much sooner than your garden this way.