Forcing Woody Branches to Bloom
I love adding color to the house in winter by forcing woody ornamentals plants to bloom indoors. Forcing is a term used to describe the process of encouraging a plant to bloom out of season. Spring-flowering trees and shrubs work wonderfully for winter forcing, as these plants develop their flower buds during the fall of the previous year. To force flowers, simply cut branches of flowering plants and place the cut stems in water in a warm environment. Water flow into the stem and the warm temperatures will encourage flower buds to open. Forcing can only occur after plants have endured a sufficient cold period to break dormancy. Late winter is a great time to force flowers.
Many plants can be used for forcing, but those with smaller flowers are more likely to fully open their buds when brought indoors. The closer a plant is to its natural bloom time the faster the flower buds will open. Try several different species until you find success. Cut branches over several weeks, starting with the earliest bloomers such as forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia), plums (Prunus domestica) and flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa). As the season progresses try dogwoods (Cornus species), redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and magnolia (Magnolia spp.). My favorite plant for forcing is peach (Prunus persica) with their brilliant fuchsia blooms.
To force branches, use proper pruning techniques to take cuttings by pruning branches back to an outward facing bud or cutting back to a natural branch point. Look for branches that need removal due to crowding or inward growth. Place branches in a bucket of water as you collect cuttings.
Bring the branches indoors and make a fresh cut at the base of the branch before arranging cuttings in a vase. Remove any buds that will be under water. Flower buds can take several days or even weeks to open, depending upon species and timing. Keep the water fresh by replacing ever few days. You can combine cuttings with evergreen branches or create colorful arrangements using stems of yellow-twig dogwood. Experiment with different plant material in arrangements.