Chase the chill of winter away with beautiful blooming branches — indoors! Even when it's still freezing outside, trees and shrubs, which formed plump buds during the previous year, are ready to unfurl their floral flags. You can get these beauties to herald in spring long before its time, with a technique called “forcing.” Young branches are cut and brought indoors, tricked by the warmer temperatures; they slowly open to reveal blossoms. It's simple to do and here's my technique:
Once the temperatures outdoors start to climb above 32°F, blooming trees and shrubs with their tiny buds will begin plumping up — a perfect time to start cutting. Select branches from spring blooming trees or shrubs, my favorites are listed below. Look for young branches, about 6 to 18 inches long, with several buds per spray, and although it may seem obvious, be sure to select branches from a dense area on the plant so you won't leave a hole, or from the back of the tree if it is along a fence.
Using sharp, clean pruners, cut these small branches flush to the trunk. Place the cut branch in cool water or if time permits, submerge the entire branch in water overnight. This will completely hydrate the branch and the buds and will break dormancy — forcing blooms to open sooner. Re-cut the stem and make a 4-inch slit through the length at the bottom of the branch — this will allow water to be absorbed more easily — then place in warm water. Once in bloom, the branches can be added to other floral arrangements, or left on their own in a vase. It's best to keep the bouquet out of direct sunlight and to remember to change the water every two to three days. Add a splash of hydrogen peroxide to the water to control bacteria and extend the life of the blooming branch.
Selecting spring and early summer blooming trees and shrubs are the key to success, yet be patient — it can take one to six weeks to see results. It's not unusual for some of the branches to set roots, and you can plant the rooted branch (once roots are 3/8 inch long) in a pot filled with potting soil until established and then you can plant outside once the ground can be worked. Have fun and enjoy the great outdoors — indoors.
Some of the best blooming branches:
Chaenomeles spp-Japanese or Flowering Quince
Cornus florida-Flowering Dogwood
Hamamelis vernalis-Vernal Witch Hazel
Magnolia x soulangiana-Saucer Magnolia
Magnolia stellata-Star Magnolia
Malus spp-Apple and Crabapple
Prunus spp-Flowering Almond, Cherry and Plum
Salix caprea-European Pussy Willow