How to Force Forsythia Flowers Indoors

Forcing flowers on cut stems is a great way to hurry spring along

forsythia branch in bloom
David Beaulieu

Are you impatient for winter to end? While only Mother Nature can hurry along spring for real, there is, nonetheless, something that you can do to bring a bit of spring to your home while snow still smothers the yard: forcing flowers indoors. Forcing is the process of causing a plant to flower before its natural season. Since your forsythia is planted outdoors, you have to take cuttings from the shrub to bring indoors, but the process is easy and fun. It's a great way to get a taste of spring while you wait for the long winter to end for good.

When to Force Flowers

Typically, February and March are the months to force flowers. By February, the plants have endured enough cold weather to satisfy their chilling requirements or the number of hours at cold temperatures required for fruiting. After March, it would be rather pointless to force flowers from forsythia, since by then they are ready to burst forth outdoors, naturally.

How to Force Forsythia Flowers

When you're ready to go out and cut some branches, be warned: This may become habit-forming. Many gardeners in cold-winter climates derive a special satisfaction from walking through the snow on a February day, clipping a few branches, and bringing back a bit of spring to their homes. Once you do it, it will probably become an annual rite of spring for you.

The only equipment you need is a sharp pair of pruning shears, a bucket, and some floral preservative. Here is how to force forsythia flowers:

  1. Pick a day that is above freezing.
  2. Cut the forsythia stems in lengths of less than 3 feet, and bring them home.
  3. Put the stems in a bucket of warm water.
  4. Use the pruning shears to cut another inch off the bottoms of the submerged stems. This second cut, performed underwater where air cannot act as a drying agent, will promote water intake.
  5. Allow the forsythia stems to soak up the warm water for several hours.
  6. Change the water in the bucket. As you're refilling it, add some floral preservative and mix it in well.
  7. Re-cut the stems, again making the cut under the water.
  8. Place the bucket of stems in a sunny area. It's best where there is ample indirect light, rather than strong direct light, which can be too hot. It will also help speed up the flowering if the air is relatively humid. If not, mist the branches periodically to provide some moisture.
  9. Change the water if it turns cloudy, as needed.
  10. Continue misting and changing the water, as needed, until the buds begin to bloom; this usually takes about two to three weeks.

You Can Also Force Pussy Willows

Forsythia is an early blooming, woody plant that is particularly susceptible to forcing. Another shrub in the same category is the pussy willow. The process is similar to forcing forsythia and can be done in early- to late-February, depending on your location.