Yes, spring is just around the corner, but it cannot come soon enough for me. To give myself a bit of “early spring” I like to force branches into bloom.
Early spring flowering trees and shrubs form their flower buds in the fall before the plants go dormant. After about eight weeks of temperatures below 40 degrees F (usually after Jan. 1), branches can be cut and forced into bloom.
Most flowering shrubs are easily forced, but trees can prove to be a bit more difficult. Forcing time becomes shorter the later in the winter you cut the branches. It can take anywhere from two to five weeks for the blooms to appear.
Gather healthy, young branches with many flower buds. Flower buds are usually larger and plumper than leaf buds. When cutting fruit tree branches, choose the ones that have many spurs, the short compact side shoots which contain the flowers. Cut about ¼ inch above a side bud or branch so that you do not leave a stub behind. The branches should be cut about 10 to 18 inches long. Longer branches are better used in a floral arrangement.
After the branches have been brought indoors, make a slit or two in the bottom of the stem before placing them in water, like a star or cross pattern when viewing them from the bottom. This will allow for better absorbtion of water. Put them full length in cool water for several hours. I like to use my bathtub for this. This will allow the stems to absorb water quickly and begin to break dormancy.
The branches should next be placed in a container in an upright position. Add some water to cover about 3” of the stem. A flower preservative can be added if you like. This is a preservative solution recipe I like to use – 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice, 1 Tbsp. sugar, ½ tsp. chlorine bleach. Mix with 1 quart of water. Put the container in a cool (60-65 degrees F) location. Warmer temperatures can cause them to develop too fast and not open properly. Low humidity may cause the buds to drop off, so try to keep it near a humidifier or mist them daily. When you see some bud color, move the container to a well lit area but not in direct sunlight. Moving the container to a cool location (40 to 60 degrees) at night will help to prolong the bloom time. It is best to change the water every four days to keep the bacteria in check.
Some rooting may appear on the branches during the forcing. If it is something you would like for a new plant, remove the branch from the water when the roots are about ¼ to ⅜ inches long. Pot separately and keep moist until permanent roots are established. After the weather has warmed, the new plant can be planted outdoors. The new plant may need to be protected for a few years.
As always, happy gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.