Ask Elaine: Winter Forcing of Plants and Branches to Bloom Inside

Is there any way to get some color inside my home from outside plants to help chase away the winter blahs?


Dear Don,

Late winter can be unbearable.  You can bring a bit of spring indoors by gathering branches of flowering deciduous trees and shrubs and forcing them to bloom or leaf out early in your home.

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Spring flowering trees and shrubs set their flower buds the previous fall. After at least eight weeks of cold outdoor temperatures (below 40⁰F), the plants’ branches are capable of blooming if you provide the right conditions. Bringing branches indoors imitates nature’s thawing process — warm weather causes the ground to thaw from a solid (ice) to a liquid (water). The buds will take one to six weeks to open. The closer to the natural bloom time that you cut the branches, the shorter the wait.

Chose healthy branches, free from disease, insect and other injury. Select and cut branches with plump flower buds on days above freezing. Use a sharp tool – knife or pruners. Do not leave a stub. Take branches from crowded spots where they will not be missed. Take care not to disfigure the tree or shrub.

Cut one to three foot lengths of branches and put them in a deep pail of warm water. Carefully make a vertical split about one to two inches in length in the bottom/cut end of the stem. Do NOT smash them, as previously recommended; it crushes the cells that move water up the plant’s stem. Remove any buds that will be under water; they will make the water dirty.  

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Put the prepared branches in a vase or jar with warm water to promote the branches to imbibe water and cause the buds to swell and open (in about four to eight days). Change the water every two to three days. Once the buds start to show color, the water can be cooler to prolong the bloom.  Keep the vase in a cool room (50-65⁰ F) and away from direct sunlight. A package of floral preservative will help to reduce bacteria in the water and extend the bloom time. Cut various branches at various times for a succession of blooms and color indoors.

Here is a list of possible plants for forcing indoors:

Crabapple; dogwood; flowering pear, cherry, plum and quince; forsythia; hawthorn; lilac; magnolia; pussy willow; red maple; redbud; serviceberry; spirea; vernal witchhazel; viburnum; winter jasmine; wisteria. 

Enjoy! Spring is just around the corner.

Elaine Fogerty
Executive Director[/su_column][/su_row]

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