Forcing Flowers to Bloom

Mary Ellen Banks
Adams County Master Gardener

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. " Most of us would agree--with barely two-thirds of Winter behind us, and the threat of more snow, ice, and bitter cold ahead, that our patience has been tried here in Adams County. We certainly would not be faulted for wishing a warm place like Arizona; or, you can find some magic right in your yard which will remind you that Spring is on its way, no matter what Punxsutawney Phil predicted. YOU can have a bit of Spring inside your house sooner than later. If you have enjoyed the brightness of a forced woody shrub in the past, this is a little nudge for you to bundle up, and go outside and begin the process.

If you have not tried to induce a small limb into premature brilliance, this can be an easy project to undertake. It is a marvelous activity to do with family members, especially young children, who are most often amazed at the results. If you have shrubs in your yard, or a relative, friend or neighbor gives you access and permission to gather some plant matter from their property, you are set to go.

First, consider the type of plant that is most likely to respond to producing blooms if you remove some of their branches and put them in water. Forsythia is one of the easiest to coax into a golden display. Another, likely candidate is pussy willow or flowering quince. If you pluck some branches now, you can have your own bit of early Spring inside your home in 2-3 weeks.

Materials you will need:

  • A metal of plastic bucket or container.
  • A sharp knife, gardening shears, or a small hand pruner.
  • Water

After gathering the materials you need for this project, you are ready to begin. Choose a day to go outdoors when the temperature is above freezing to do some trimming. You do not have to remove large sections from any one bush, but rather only the tips of plants. Clip the branch at an angle rather than straight across. This allows the stem and buds to draw up more water when you get them indoors. It is best to select a branch with well-developed buds, and cut a branch tip 12-18 inches long. The flower buds will be larger and fuller than the leaf buds that are along the stem. Paying attention to bud detail will assist in picking a branch that will have showier blooms to enjoy when they open indoors. Place the branches into your bucket and container as you work.

When you have finished collecting branches bring them indoors, and add some warm water to your bucket to keep the branches hydrated. It might be easiest to place the bucket in a laundry or utility sink so they can spend a day or so acclimating to the temperature and humidity in your home. A bathtub would work for this holding area as well. Soaking in warm water allows the stem and buds to increase their moisture-holding capacity much as they would outside in the Spring when they respond to increasing outdoor temperatures and rainfall.

After the branches have had time to adjust to the indoor conditions of your house, you are able to arrange them in containers for display. It is preferable to use a vase or container that keeps the bottom of the stems darker than would a clear glass vase. Place warm water in your container to keep the stems and buds in good condition. Change the water every 3-4 days. You can also use a floral preservative, often available at a florist or any other store that sells fresh flowers for arrangements, as such a product can be beneficial in maintaining the plantís hydration, and has the added benefit of providing the branches with appropriate nutrients.

It might take a week or more before the flower buds show some color, and the arrangement will progress better if it is in a relatively cool location in your home away from a direct heat source, but with bright natural light. If you do not have a humidifier in your home, using a water mister daily will help keep the humidity around the arrangement higher, and the buds in good condition.

Different plants have varying bloom opening times. Forsythia may open as soon as 7-9 days, quince, 12-20 days, and pussy willow in 5-15 days. So, even counting your relatively short preparation time and the days to expected bloom, you still have to have patience, and adopt the pace of nature, even if you gave her a helping hand.

Read other winter related gardening articles

Read other articles by Mary Ellen Banks