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Forced branches to brighten up your home

The tip of a brown branch is in focus. The branch is budding small green leaves speckled with red dots. A water drop hangs from the branch.
Michael Leland
Try to prune your branches when it's above freezing for the best forced bud results.

The end of winter is filled with the promise of spring, but it can still be dreary and gray. If you’re in need of a little cheering up, consider forcing flowering tree and shrub branches to bloom inside. Forcing, if you're not familiar with it, is a process that manipulates plants into blooming outside of their normal season under artificial conditions.

Starting in February and moving into March, a patient gardener can prune pussy willow, forsythia, redbud, crabapple, magnolia, lilac and several other plants when it’s above freezing, taking the clippings inside to flower early. We’ve compiled a step-by-step guide to forcing branches so you can enjoy a taste of spring this winter.

The tip of a brown pussy willow branch that is beginning to bud and open up.
Michael Leland
Pussy willow branches are easier to force into bloom than other trees and shrubs.

  1. Choose your bloom
    Depending on when you want to spruce up your space, some plants will be easier or harder to force. Generally, the closer it is to a tree or shrub’s regular blooming time, the easier it will be to force branches inside. Pussy willow and forsythia can be forced fairly easily in February, while ornamentals like magnolia will be easier to force closer to spring. You might try forcing the clippings of fruit trees after you prune in late winter.
  2. Prune your branch(es)
    When you go out to cut branches, look for straight stems with large, round buds. More prominent, rounder buds are flower buds, whereas pointier, narrower buds are leaf buds. Prune one to two feet from the tip of the chosen branch. Be careful not to take too much off the plant, and leave enough so that the plant can still have a big, beautiful bloom come spring.
  3. Force your branches
    Bring your branches inside and put them in a vase of water immediately. Keep them in dim light in a cool location (60 - 65 degrees). Change the water every day to prevent bacteria and fungus from growing, and spritz them a couple of times a day to prevent the buds from drying out. The branches should bloom in about one to five weeks, depending on how close it is to the plant’s standard flowering period.
  4. Enjoy!
    Once the branches have bloomed, move them to bright, indirect light, still in a cool location. The blooms will last about a week, perhaps longer if the branch has leaves on it.
Sumner Wallace is an intern for IPR’s digital team. Sumner grew up in Iowa City, but now attends Oberlin College in Ohio, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric and Media Studies with a minor in Chemistry. She has also worked for Little Village Magazine and The Oberlin Review.