While we wait for the beauty and bounty of the 2016 garden season outside, a fun blooming project can be brought inside. If you have access to crabapple, lilac, honeysuckle, apple, plum, forsythia, dogwood, chokecherry or pussywillow then your garden can bloom inside! This technique is called “forcing branches.” Follow these 5 simple steps for a jump on spring:
1. CUT – Select branches that have fat flower buds. Use sharp pruning shears and make a cut flush with an adjacent branch.
2. HAMMER – Bring the branches inside, cut a 1”-2” slit in the bottom of each stem with a sharp knife, then hammer the slits. This helps water penetrate the branch and keeps resin from sealing the cut end.
3. SUBMERGE – Remove any lower buds from the branches and place the branches in a deep tub of lukewarm water for several hours. This process allows for any small particles of bark or unwanted buds to float off and acclimation of the branches to warm, dry inside air.
4. PLACE – Take the branches and place them in a clean vase with at least 6” of lukewarm water. Keep your “arrangement” in a cool room (around 60 degrees F) and away from bright sunlight (this keeps them from withering and the water clear). Change the water daily until the buds begin to show color.
5. ENJOY – As the buds begin to open, move to an area with brighter light, but not direct sun. At this point, change the water every other day. Some branches, like pussy willow will open in a few days, the others listed may take a couple of weeks. Once blooming, they will last about two weeks. The cooler the room, the longer the branches will keep.
Experiment with the timing for forcing seasonal branches. Each species with develop a little differently depending upon the timing of the forcing. The earlier a flowering shrub or tree blooms in nature, the earlier the forcing period may begin. If late season bloomers are cut too early, they may never develop properly. Look for swelling of the buds as your signal to begin forcing.