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Forcing Spring Flowers

Moving up the early blooms of spring to break the winter blues

As soon as the needles drop from the Christmas tree and the seed catalogs begin to arrive, we begin to think about the oncoming colors of spring
As the days start to get longer with the passing of the winter solstice, we begin to find some late sunlight to wander the garden to dream of the things to come.

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Many flowering plants need a chilling requirement to induce flowering in spring.

These flower buds usually require at least eight weeks of temperatures below 40 degrees. By February, we had exceeded the necessary cold period for the required chilling period to be reached.

This chill now has made it possible for cut branches taken in from the garden to produce blooms when taken to the warmth indoors.

Generally, branches cut from the spring flowering shrubs are easier to force into bloom than those from flowering tree branches

When selecting material to force look for branches with a large percentage of flower buds. 
Flower buds are much larger than the buds for leaves on trees and shrubs. to force spring blooms indoors, we need plants that currently have developed flower buds on the selected branches

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Choose branches that are at least a foot long and have a generous amount of plump flower buds. There will be leaf buds on the branch also but the buds for leaves are usually smaller and have a sharper point at their tip as compared to the flower buds which are more rounded in shape.

When making your selection of branches view this as an early pruning that you are looking to perform to improve the shape and or form of the plant. 
As much as you are craving some early blooms do not remove material that will take away from the look of the plant for a good part of the upcoming growing season.

The plants you are taking the materials from are generally very forgiving, and the blooms are well worth the effort.

Cut the branch just above a side bud, being careful not to leave a stub of a stem beyond the bud. 


It is preferred that you collect the branches when temperatures are above 32 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the potential damage from too quickly warming frozen plant tissue. If the plant material is frozen when collected, submerge the branches in a tub or pail of water for a few hours. 
When the plant material collected is above 32 degrees place the branches in a tall container of water and place in a darkened area out of direct light, with cool temperatures above 50 degree and less than 70 degrees

Spray or mist the branches a couple of times a day to prevent the buds from drying out due to the lower humidity in our winter homes. Change the water in the container frequently to prevent growth of bacteria and fungi that can prevent uptake of water into the cuttings the same as you would do for your cut flowers in the summer.

Check the stems daily and once flower buds begin to open, 

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place in a large vase with fresh water and move the branches to a room with bright light, but not direct sunlight.
To maximize the length of bloom time you can place the stems in a cooler room.

The closer we get to natural bloom time, the shorter the period it takes for the branches to bloom from cuttings. 

Depending on the type of plant you are trying to get to bloom, it can take from one to five weeks for the flowers to begin to open.
For example, forsythia and pussy willow generally take only one to three weeks, while crabapples can take two to four weeks

For the earliest selection look to use the following plants:

  • Cornelian Cherry (2 weeks to force),

  • Forsythia (1 to 3 weeks to force), 

  • Witch Hazel (1 week to force), 

  • Poplar (3 weeks to force),

  • Willow (2 weeks to force).

About a month later you can begin looking at adding the following selections in addition to the early ones above:

  • Red Maple (2 weeks to force),

  • Alder (1 to 3 weeks to force), 

  •  Serviceberry (1 to 3 weeks to force), 

  • Apples and Crabapples (, 2 to 4 weeks to force), 

  • Birch (2 to 4 weeks to force), 

  • Quince (4 weeks to force), 

  • Cherries (white and pink flowers, 2 to 4 weeks to force), 

  • Rhododendrons (4 to 6 weeks to force), 

  • Pussy Willow (1 to 2 weeks to force).

An addition month later you can look to add the following to your pruning list:

  • Hawthorns (4 to 5 weeks to force)

  • Deutzia (3 to 4 weeks to force), 

  • Honeysuckle shrub (2 to 3 weeks to force), 

  • Mock orange (4 to 5 weeks to force), 

  • Oaks (2 to 3 weeks to force), 

  • Lilacs (4 to 5 weeks to force),

  • Spirea (4 weeks to force).

Here are some of the last selections to be made from the garden before the normal growth of your plants begins with the onset of late spring:

  • crabapples, 

  • magnolias

  • redbuds.

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