How to Force Spring Flowering of Trees and Shrubs

pink and red blooms in a garden
Lyuba Burakova / Stocksy United

Flowering trees and shrubs, such as forsythia and magnolia, are a sure sign that spring has arrived. And impatient gardeners in cold climates can create an early breath of spring indoors in the late winter by forcing branches of spring-flowering trees and shrubs to bloom before they normally would if left outdoors on their own. Forcing spring bloomers is an easy enough task. The hardest part of forcing is often getting yourself outside in the cold weather to cut the branches and bring them inside. However, the reward is worth it.

Here are some tips to force flowering of trees and shrubs.

Good Candidates to Force Into Bloom

There are many spring-flowering plants that will easily blossom early indoors, and you can experiment with whatever you have growing in your garden. Some are more easily forced than others. You might be surprised by how readily the branches will bloom.

Some traditional trees and shrubs to try forcing include:

When to Cut Your Branches

Many spring-flowering trees and shrubs require a period of cold dormancy to bloom, which is why forcing usually takes place in the late winter or early spring. Timing will depend on the whims of the weather each season.

But by mid-January, most spring bloomers will have had sufficient time in cold temperatures for them to be ready to be cut, brought indoors, and forced into bloom. However, there are a few plants—including crabapples, beauty bushes, magnolias, redbuds, and spireas—that require a longer dormancy period and do better if you wait until late February or early March.

It's best to cut your branches on a relatively warm day. If that's not possible and the branches are frozen when you want to cut them, it helps to submerge the entire branch in slightly warm water for a few hours before cutting.

How to Cut Branches for Forcing

Be certain you are getting branches with flower buds and not just leafy growth; there might be both flower and leaf buds on the stems. Flower buds tend to be rounder and larger than leaf buds, so look for those swollen, plump buds. Chances are if you see two different types of buds, you have a branch with flower buds on it.

Cut your branches at an angle. And be sure to cut them long enough to stand tall in your vase or container to make a nice display.

How to Force Branches Into Blooming

Your branches are going to need a period of transition indoors to be fooled into thinking it is spring. Place your freshly cut branches in a container of water, and put them in a cool location away from sunlight. A basement works well for this. Cover the branches loosely with a plastic bag to trap moisture, or mist them daily to prevent them from drying out. Also, check the water in the container daily, and change it when it becomes cloudy or discolored to prevent rotting.

As the branches take up water, the buds will begin to swell. Depending on the type of branches and when you cut them, you should see the buds enlarge and begin to open within one to six weeks of cutting them. Pussy willow and forsythia will be the first to open. But in general, the closer to their normal outdoor flowering time you cut the branches, the quicker they will bloom. As they begin to bloom, you can move your branches into a brighter spot in your home to display them.

Keep checking and changing the water in the container whenever it becomes discolored, and your forced blooms can last for weeks. The branches might even root in the water. If they do, pot them up until you can plant them outdoors.