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Forcing Flowering Branches

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

I learned about forcing flowering branches from my mother which she, in turn, learned from her mother. The Farmer's Almanac calls it "an age-old practice." As I bring in branches from my garden, it's wonderful to think about the heritage of this practice and feel a bond to those who went before. They too were looking for a way to clear out the winter doldrums.

Forsythia cuttings are a common choice for indoor forcing. This year I chose cuttings from the Kwanzan cherry tree in front of my home (Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan' - also known as 'Kanzan.') I pruned a major limb from this tree, so I had plenty of small branches for forcing.

Forcing, as you can imagine, simply refers to manipulating cuttings into producing leaves and blooms earlier than usual. Bringing cuttings indoors provides warmth. Putting the branches in water helps the dormant branch hydrate and come out of dormancy.Cuttings from trees and shrubs which are forced successfully are generally dormant in the winter. Do not take cuttings too early. Wait until winter is almost over but the temperature is still around freezing. Choose thin, non-essential branches without removing too many from the tree or shrub. If you are uncertain about which branches to remove, ask a gardener! Put cuttings in a vase of water and enjoy observing the emergence of leaves and flowers.

There are many types of trees and shrubs from which you can try to force blooms. Cherry and apples trees are favorites, but also try flowering dogwood, magnolia and lilac. Even trees with inconspicuous flowers are fun to try -- red maple, oaks, and horse chestnut.

This is a great activity to do with children, especially while we are sequestered in our homes during the COVID-19 crisis. It's ok to go outside for fresh air! Take a tour of your garden coming out of dormancy. Pass on the tradition of forcing branches to someone you love.

Forced cuttings from my Kwanzan cherry tree
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