Simple tips for forcing branches for indoor colour Image

Simple tips for forcing branches for indoor colour

By Mark Cullen on Apr 04, 2016

Looking for an early season lift?  Force some of the attractive flowering shrubs and trees on your property into bloom early.  

Any time between now and early spring is a good time to force many spring flowering shrub cuttings into bloom indoors. You will get the natural benefits of fragrance and colour without having to hold your breath until late April or May.

Consider the plant’s natural blooming time. The earlier that a shrub or tree blooms in your yard, the more ready they are to bloom in your home. Last autumn they set their blossom buds, so they are just waiting for some warmth to kick start them into blooming.

Some of the best choices are:

  • Forsythia (yellow)
  • Purple Sand Cherry, Prunus Cistena (pink blooms – the purple is for the foliage and bark colour)
  • Crabapples and apples, Malus (virtually the same thing when it comes to flowering time)
  • Pussy willow, Salix discolor (you will force these not for their flowers but for their catkins – soft and furry)
  • Dogwood, Cornus (generally white, large flowers, distinct red or yellow wood)

Cut generously.  start with a healthy shrub or tree that has branches about a metre long that you can prune without harming the mother plant. There is very little that you can do by way of pruning that will actually ‘hurt’ the plant, but the ultimate shape of it may be distorted or changed in a way that makes the plant look not so attractive when you are done.  

Forcing branches

Helpful tips for forcing branches:

  • Make the cut on an angle to maximize the surface area of the woody tissue of the cutting – this will assist in drawing water up its’ stem.
  • Young stems tend to produce better colour as this is where the flower buds occur in greatest quantity. Cut from last years’ growth, best that you can.
  • Choose a sunny day, when the temperature is above freezing.
  • Remove the bark from the bottom 2 inches (5 cm).  

Once indoors, use lots of water.  Plunge the cutting in a deep container of warm water for 30 minutes or so, then replace the water with clean, room temperature water and a small handful of charcoal. The charcoal is not absolutely necessary, but it will help to keep the water sweet while the cuttings sit in the water for three days or more. Store the cuttings in your basement in the darkest, coolest spot that you have (but not freezing).

After three days, begin to bring your cuttings up into the warmth, moving as many as you can display at one time into this space.  

Stagger the placement of your shrub/tree cuttings in warm spaces by about a week to ensure that you are enjoying fresh flowers for an extended period of time.  

Be patient, have fun and plan on sharing the wealth with friends and neighbours.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden' published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.

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