Forcing Flowering Branches Forcing Flowering Branches

We talked about how you can force narcissus bulbs to bloom indoors, even if you weren't quite organized enough to be able to get them started way back in November, when grim February seemed far away.

But what if you missed that botanical boat as well, and now here it is February, and you're wondering if spring will ever arrive?

Depending on where you live, you can begin now by getting a jump start on pruning your flowering trees and shrubs, and bringing the branches inside to bloom indoors.

This works on the same principle as forcing bulbs; the warmth and sunlight in the home tricks the tree branches into believing that spring has indeed sprung, and so they start blooming, giving you a fresh and long-lasting floral display.

This is all possible because before the trees go dormant in the fall, they form their buds - maybe as a way of ensuring that the blooms will flower even if something goes wrong during the dormant phase. The longer you wait to cut the branches, the easier it will be to force them, as the plant is getting more and more ready to bloom.

These branches can be put to best effect in a setting where you have enough room for them to really stand tall, and you should cut them so that they're no shorter than about 10". A dining room table, a hallway chest of drawers, or a coffee table cleared of clutter are all good locations. You should make sure the vase is tall enough to support the branches. To make them last long, change the water every few days, don't put the vase in direct sunlight, and trim any buds and twigs from the part of the branch that will be submerged.

You can buy branches to force at a florist's, but if you want to cut your own, don't just plunge out there into the yard with a pair of scissors and a determination to bring winter to its knees.

Even though it may seem that spring will never come, try to take the long view here and think at this point of pruning the tree rather than gathering branches. Look for spots that seem overgrown, or which branches are getting a little unruly, and trim from there.

Select branches that have many buds that look plump and healthy. Take a few extra branches - if the tree can afford them without looking stripped - because not all the branches will respond to the forcing.

Cut the branch from the tree with a sharp blade, using care about where you cut in terms of how the tree will look without the branch, cutting about 1/4 of an inch above a branch stem.

If you're doing this before temperatures have risen above freezing, first put the branches into cold water, so they aren't shocked into blooming too quickly. The next day (or right away if you've waited until temperatures are above freezing), slit into the bottom of each branch vertically about three inches. Put them in a pot of warm tapwater (use a pot so that you have room for this next step) and holding the knife and stem underwater, trim another inch from the bottom. This will allow the water to come into the open cells of the branch. Another approach some people employ is to use a hammer to pound the bottom of each branch so water can get into it.

Change the water every few days, and keep the vase in a room that's about 65 or 70 degrees. The blooms should begin opening in one or two weeks.

Branches from fruit trees, dogwood, magnolia, and forsythia are especially amenable to being forced. Or maybe we should just say, "encouraged."

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Design.

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