Forcing blooms: A generations-old method for enjoying early color

by Holly Ennist Stewart

With spring about to kick in earnestly, gardeners are looking forward to seeing their favorite plants in bloom again. You can get a head start on enjoying the sights and scents of the growing season by using an age-old technique called forcing branches. If you’re from a family of plant lovers, you may recall an older relative bringing budded branches from flowering trees and shrubs indoors this time of year. Forcing branches begins with the task of late winter pruning and ends with a vase of lovely flowers on display in your home, sometimes weeks ahead of their regular bloom time.

First, let’s go over which types of plants work best for forcing branches. Buds on shrubs and vines force faster and more reliably than those on trees, so you might want to start with pussy willows or forsythia. Witch hazel, spice bush, spirea, flowering quince, honeysuckle, wisteria, lilac and deutzia are all good choices for forcing branches on shrubs. Fruit trees such as apple, pear, cherry, plum, and crabapple also yield a high success rate. Larger deciduous trees that will react favorably to being brought indoors to bloom include red maple, birch, magnolia, eastern red bud and several varieties of dogwood. 

The method is fairly simple. You can start as soon as buds form on branches in late winter and into the early weeks of spring. Do the pruning on a day when temperatures are above freezing, so the transition into your house will be less stressful on the buds. Select from a crowded section where branches are clustered, or away from the front of the plant. Choose a branch that contains multiple flower buds that have not yet opened. (Note that flower buds are rounder and plumper than leaf buds).

• Using a pair of clean, sharp pruners, make a sharply angled diagonal cut one to two feet from the end of the branch. 

• Make a few slits in the bark near the bottom of the stem to increase water intake.  

• Bring inside and place branches in a vase that will support them properly. Add water.

• Change the water every few days to prevent bacteria build up. 

• When buds begin to open, place them away from direct sun and heaters in order to prolong the length of bloom time.

The length of the forcing period varies by species and by how close it is to the plants’ regular outdoor blooming season. It will take anywhere from 1 to 5 weeks for blooms to open after you bring them indoors.

Forcing branches may sound like a big investment of time, but in reality only the initial pruning and preparation take more than a minute or two. The payoff will be worth it when you find yourself enjoying fresh florescence in the house weeks before it happens outdoors!

Holly Ennist Stewart is a lifelong North Jersey resident. In 2019, she left a decades-long career in the newspaper industry to work with plants and people who love them. She’s been on staff at Glenwild since 2021. 



By Glenwild Gardens