Cut branches forced into bloom can help add sunshine to those gloomy winter days and it is not hard to coax many into flower. Branches from cherry, plum, forsythia, quince and viburnums can be forced into blooming and used in arrangements.
Spring flowering trees and shrubs can be forced into bloom once winter conditions in our gardens have satisfied their dormancy requirements. With proper conditioning in water, good light and proper temperatures, they will burst into flower 5 days to 2
weeks after cutting.
Some plants are quite easy to force into bloom such as forsythia, quince and pussy willow. Not all shrubs however, are as easy. Those with late spring blooms such as viburnums, lilac and weigela, are far more difficult. They are best cut close to their regular flowering time. Cherries and plums are excellent forcing specimens especially the old fashioned purple leaf plum. Many plants can be forced 1-2 months before their normal flowering. You can start forcing as early as February for many of the earlier flowering selections. March works well for the later flowering ones.
When winter arrives the flower buds are already formed on trees and shrubs. A period of dormancy is required before they will bloom. Plants differ in the amount of chilling, moisture, light and warm temperatures necessary to stimulate the spring flower buds. By February in most years, winter temperatures have satisfied the flower bud’s dormancy requirement. Once done, you can force branches by duplicating spring conditions.
Choose a mild day to cut branches and try to cut them during the warmest part of the day when buds are filled with moisture. Choose branches that are well budded and have interesting curves. Follow good pruning practices and prune to maintain the natural shape of the plant.
Allow the flowers to develop slowly to fully encourage large blooms with good color. First, mash the bottom inch or two of the stems with a hammer and place in water. Add a floral preservative or sugar with a drop of bleach. Change the water every few days over the forcing period. Leave the branches in a cool, dark spot until bud swell begins, then move them into a well-lit area to encourage the flower color to develop. Avoid placing the branches in direct sunlight. Water uptake through the stems should provide ample moisture preventing the branches from drying out unless the room is too warm. Cool temperatures allow buds to develop slowly and maintain flower color. When color appears in the bud it is time to arrange the branches in containers. Don’t wait until the blossoms are fully opened.
Submitted by Alexis Amorese, Extension Horticulture Agent, Boyle County, University of Kentucky