Forcing branches for winter color

In most areas of the country, this is the dead of winter. It’s cold and bleak, and spring seems so far away. If you have early spring flowering trees or shrubs, you can remove a few of the branches and force them to bloom inside. Forsythia, flowering dogwood, magnolia, and even fruit trees are just a few species that could brighten up your home with color.

Rosie Lerner is an Extension horticulturist at Purdue University. She says after a period of at least 8 weeks of temperatures below 40-degrees, branches can be cut and forced into bloom. The later in the winter you cut them, the shorter the forcing time becomes. Look for branches that are starting to plump up with buds, but don’t go crazy with the shears.

"You want to of course think about the fact that you’re cutting the branches off of landscape plants that you want to look good," says Lerner. "You don’t want to just you know, ravage it by removing lots and lots of twigs and then have an awful looking shrub out there."

Cut each branch just above a vegetative bud, meaning one that’s going to become a shoot with leaves on it. After you bring them indoors, make a second cut on a slant just above the previous cut, and stick them in a vase of water. Adding a floral preservative isn’t necessary, but it won’t hurt, either.

"Depending on what species it is, it may be 2 weeks between cutting and blooming, it could be 4 weeks. It really depends on which species you’re talking about, and how close you were to the plant’s natural bloom time," she says. "The closer you are to its normal bloom time, the faster this forcing will go."

Lerner recommends keeping your branches away from strong sunlight, and in room temperatures from the mid-60’s to low-70s. If they develop roots, the new plant can be planted outdoors in the spring.

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