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Forcing Shrub Blooms

Contributed by George Kingston, Master Gardener


Are you tired of winter? How about rushing the season by forcing some branches into bloom? The sight of golden forsythia blossoms on the dining room table is a sure cure for the March blues.


There are many trees and shrubs whose branches can be forced into bloom. Most people think of forsythia, crab apple, pussy willow, cherries, pears, and apples. But did you know that you can also force rhododendrons, flowering quince, azalea, beauty bush, redbud, and spirea?


Begin by looking for plump, swollen buds. Look for the flower buds. These are usually bigger and rounder than the leaf buds. Cut your branches on a relatively warm day, if you can, but if you have to cut them when it is freezing, submerge the entire branch in lukewarm water for a few hours to wake it up.


Cut the branches at an angle, just above a bud that you will leave on the bush. Be sure to use bypass pruners. Anvil style pruners will crush the stem you leave behind, damaging the shrub. Cut the branches long enough for them to show well in the vase you plan to use. Bring along a bucket of water to plunge the stems into as you cut them. This will help to keep them from drying out. Some people recommend crushing the base of the stem to help it pick up water, but a fresh cut works just as well and helps to keep the stem from rotting.


When you bring your stems inside, keep them in the bucket and put them in a cool, shady, but not dark place for a few days. Cover them with a clear plastic bag or mist them regularly to keep them from drying out. Change the water if it becomes discolored or cloudy, and be sure to not let the container dry out.


Depending on the species and on how developed the buds were when you cut the stems, you should see the buds begin to open in a week or so, but it could take up to six weeks with some varieties if you cut them early in the winter. Forsythia is one of the easiest and quickest shrubs to force and will reward you with flowers rapidly. Crab apples are among the types that require the most patience.


When the buds start to break, you can arrange them in your favorite vase and place it in a sunny location. If you keep the water fresh and full, and mist them regularly, the blooms can last for weeks.


So stop complaining about the mud and the snow and bring a little taste of spring inside.


©2021 Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association