Forcing spring branches indoors

Kat Fox

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A vase with dogwood branches blooming indoors.
A vase with dogwood branches blooming indoors.
A vase with dogwood branches blooming indoors.

While standing in the dark near mounds of dogwood shrubs on my friends’ rural property last week in below-freezing temperatures, I felt like a bit of a thief. I had, in fact, gotten permission to help myself to some branches, so I snipped away and heaped my score in the trunk of my car, deposited the pruners where I found them, and drove home.

I wanted the bright red dogwood branches for displaying in front of the colourful walls in my apartment. Little did I know that I would end up accidentally forcing spring branches to bloom indoors, something I had never attempted before.

After getting my looted branches home, I trimmed the bottoms again and deposited them in a couple of vases filled with water. A week later, the buds on the branch tips had unfurled to reveal bright green shoots, and little flower buds of the same colour sprouting out.

Thrilled with my blooming dogwood branches, I decided to look into how one forces spring branches on purpose. There are all sorts of tips I’ve since learned, and I’m eager to try out other shrubs. (But I’ll always ask permission before snipping any branches.)

A bloom on cut dogwood.
A bloom on cut dogwood.

Here are some good tips for forcing spring branches:

  • Try forcing branches from crabapple, forsythia, magnolia, pussy willow, spirea, witch hazel, lilac, Japanese maples, and fruit trees such as cherries, pears and apples.
  • Whatever shrub or tree you decide to take branches from, make sure that it has had enough time to go dormant. Late January is sufficient for most, and by now, in early March, everything has had enough of the cold season to now come out of dormancy.
  • The nearer you cut the branches to their normal bloom time, the less time they take to force into bloom indoors. (Sort of logical, isn’t it?)
  • Be smart about where you make your cuts, just like you would any time you prune. Don’t leave stubs, don’t take too much off one shrub, etc. Look for branches with round, plump buds.
  • Smashing or slitting the bottom of the stems increases water uptake.
  • If you want to be really careful about it, move the cut branches to a cooler, darker room indoors before bringing them to their final destination. This helps mimic the warming of the season and the temperatures the branches normally need when blooming outdoors. You may also find it helpful to submerge the branches in water overnight, or spray them with water frequently for the first few days. High humidity helps them break dormancy.
  • Change the water in your vase frequently, and keep the branches out of direct sunlight.
  • Interestingly shaped branches with new leaves unfurling is just as pretty as spring blooms opening up. I’m thinking Japanese maples….
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