It is way too early to be doing anything outside to brighten our view from inside, yet you can bring some of that spring color inside by forcing blooms on a number of flowering shrubs and ornamental trees in your home landscape. Early spring flowering shrubs produce their flower buds the summer before and after enough winter weather, those flowers are ready to bloom. It is the combination of warmer temperatures, the water provided and the stored energy in the branches that allow us to enjoy the blooms.
To get started, pick those shrubs you know bloom early in your yard and chose branches that have lots of flower buds. Flower buds are typically larger and plumper than leaf buds. Take those branches from the side or rear of the shrub so you still get a great bloom show when spring arrives. Branches can be cut at any length, but those between six and eighteen inches work best. The newer wood is likely to have more flower buds. If branches are taken while frozen, thaw them slowly in a cooler part of the home overnight before proceeding.
I always recommend clean cuts when pruning, but in this case crushing the branch ends will keep them from healing over and limiting water uptake. Once that is done, place those branches in a bucket of warm water and place them where the temperatures are around 60-70 degrees. On the floor, below a window, on an outside wall will work. Those branches will bloom without the direct sun. In fact, warmer temperatures and direct sunlight will lessen the quality of the bloom and they won’t last as long either.
Indoors the blooms will often only last about a week, depending on conditions in the home. To have bloom over a longer time-frame, keep repeating the forcing process every few days. Consider using a variety of plants to create a colorful bloom show or mix with a bouquet of purchased cut flowers to provide height and texture changes in the arrangement using your woody branches.
Examples of shrubs and small ornamental flowering trees include Forsythia, Amelanchier, Flowering Almond, Bridal Wreath Spirea, and Flowering Crabapple. Fruit trees like peach and Pear can also be forced to bloom. A good tip is to wrap the branches with a moist towel to help soften the bud scales for a few days.
Flower buds with begin to open anywhere from one week up to 4 weeks after the forcing begins. Crabapples and the fruit trees are good examples of ones that will take three to four weeks to force. Plan to change out the water every couple of days especially if it becomes cloudy or develop bacteria. Tap water from the sink is still the best.
Richard Hentschel is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension services. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
— Ways to get some early spring blooms indoors —