As the weather warms up, spring-flowering trees and shrubs break their winter dormancy and burst into color in our yards and gardens. But you don’t have to wait to enjoy their blooms. When you see the buds on forsythias, pussy willows, and crabapples beginning to swell, prune some branches to bring inside for vases or other containers. The flowers will soon open and often last for weeks. (Image: Shutterstock/Joy Brown)
How To Force Forsythias
Pick a day when the tempreatures are above freezing to cut forsythia branches. Look for branches no more than 3′ long, about as big around as a pencil, with buds that are starting to swell. Use pruners to avoid leaving ragged cuts on your bushes (and remember that you really are pruning, so think about how you’re shaping your plants as you cut — or don’t worry about it, if you prefer a natural look and have plenty of room for the long, arching branches).
Cut the ends of the branches at an angle. You can handle the cut branches in one of two ways. Some gardeners use a hammer to smash the ends and help them take up more water. Others bring the branches indoors and cut the ends again, while they’re still underwater, to prevent air from drying the cuts.
Either way, remove any buds that will be below the surface of the water and arrange the branches in a container. Change the water often to keep it fresh and clear. You may want to add some floral preservative; follow the directions on the package. The warm temperatures inside your home will make the branches explode with bright yellow blooms.
Pussy willows are also flowering shrubs that can be forced in much the same way as forsythias. Wait until the weather is above freezing to cut branches that have lots of swelling buds. Again, remember you’re also pruning your plant, so think about how it will look when you’re finished.
Cut branches about 2’ long, making angled cuts. Either put the branches in water to bring them indoors, and re-cut them while they’re underwater, or smash the ends with a hammer and then bring them indoors.
Keep your container out of direct sunlight. A cool room will help the branches last longer. Change the water often to keep it clean, and the fuzzy, grayish-brown catkins will open soon. If your branches produce roots, you can transplant them into the garden after the catkins fade. Otherwise, add the branches to your compost.
Use pruners to cut crabapple branches studded with plump flower buds. Cut branches near the spot where they attach to the tree, to avoid leaving stubs. Lightly smash the ends of the branches or split them with scissors, being careful not to cut yourself.
Submerge the cut branches in a large container or tub filled with lukewarm water, and let them soak several hours or overnight. Replenish the water if needed.
After you remove the branches, cut off any leaves or buds that will be below the water line, and stand them up in a vase or bucket of cool water. Keep the vase in a cool, dimly lit room for a week or two, or until the buds swell and start to open. Mist the branches often to keep them moistened, and change the water as needed to keep it fresh.
When the flowers start opening, move the vase into a warm room, and add floral preservative, if desired. Keep the branches out of direct sunlight, and enjoy them.
(Image of pussywillow branches: Shutterstock/Pitatau)