Forcing branches for indoor spring color

I'm getting tired of seeing monochromatic landscapes under bleak gray skies. All this snow has me longing for spring flowers, even though I appreciate the moisture needed to recharge our aquifers.

If you're also ready for a touch of spring color, try forcing some branches from your yard to create a cheery spring bouquet. Some of our most common early bloomers include forsythia, quince, crabapple, apple, peach and willow. These, and many other spring-flowering shrubs and trees, can be "forced," or made to bloom early, by bringing them indoors.

Cut some branches after a few days of above-freezing temperatures. Choose young stems with fat buds that you would probably want to prune anyway to avoid damaging the structure of the plant. Cut a few more stems than you need, because not all of the stems will absorb water well enough to bloom.

Completely submerge the branches in lukewarm water overnight. The following day, cut 1 inch off the base of each branch. Then, split the bases 1 to 4 inches up with sharp shears or a knife. Stand the branches in a vase or bucket of water after removing any buds or twigs that would be below water. A floral preservative in the water will control bacteria. This can be purchased or made at home. Here are three recipes from Purdue Cooperative Extension: 1) 2 cups lemon-lime carbonated beverage, 2 cups water and one-half teaspoon of household chlorine bleach; 2) 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon sugar, one-half teaspoon household chlorine bleach and 1 quart water; and 3) 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, one-half teaspoon bleach and 1 quart of water.

Place the vase of branches in a 60- to 65-degree room with low light. Change the water every day or so until the buds start to swell. When the buds start to show color, move the vase to a brightly lit spot in the house, but avoid placing the branches in full sun. It can take one to eight weeks for the blossoms to open, depending on how close to the natural bloom times the plants were when you cut them. Change the water regularly.

If by chance your branches end up rooting during this process, you can pot them individually when the roots are one-quarter to three-eighths inches long. Just trim the tops of the branches back to 8 inches. Keep the pots moist and indoors in bright sun until all danger of frost is past. Then, after acclimating the babies slowly to full outdoor light, you can plant them outside.

Happy early spring.

For more information on gardening, contact me, 887-2252 or, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing

-- JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment