19 January 2011

Coaxing Spring with Flowering Twigs

Welcome to winter in Nova Scotia, part the 83rd. After some lovely snowfalls and brisk cold...it's pouring rain outside. Yuck. In desperation to cheer us all up, I suggest that when it stops raining (or whatever it's doing where you live,) we all go outside and cut some twigs off flowering shrubs and bring them indoors to force. Wouldn't it be nice to have a couple sprigs of Chaenomeles (quince) flowering indoors in February?

Forcing twigs to flower isn't all that difficult: I actually prefer to call it 'coaxing' plants into bloom. How do we do this? By fooling them into thinking it’s time. Spring-flowering shrubs such as Pieris (above) form their flower buds the previous autumn, which is why you normally prune such plants immediately after flowering and before they form buds for the next season. After eight weeks of weather at 40 degrees F or lower, most shrubs have been dormant long enough that small branches can be brought into bloom with a little help.

All you need is a sharp knife or pruning shears, several containers, water and a floral preserving solution and of course, some prunings off spring flowering shrubs or trees. Shrubs are generally easier to bring into bloom than trees, although I've had success with cuttings from a star magnolia. Here's what to do:

On a day that is not bitterly cold, go out to your garden and decide where you would prune to get a more natural or formal shape, depending on your tastes. Shrubs that are relatively easy to force include:

Forsythia (Forsythia, various hybrids)
Bridal wreath spirea (Spirea x vanhouttii)
Deutzia (Deutzia scabra, D. gracilis (photo, below)
Mock orange (Philadelphus x virginalis)
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Pieris (Pieris japonica, various hybrids)
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa, C. japonica)
Flowering fruit trees (cherry, crab, etc)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera, various)
Bittersweet vine (for leaves; the flowers are insignificant)
Magnolia, especially M. stellata

Select twigs or young branches that are between 6-18 inches long, for ease of use in containers, and make a clean cut as close to the main branch as you can. Flower buds are larger and plumper than leaf buds, so you should be able to determine whether you’re cutting branches with plenty of flower buds or only a few. Make a second cut on each stem, sharply angled to allow better water uptake. If it was very cold when you collected your branches, put them in the bathtub for a few hours in tepid water, to allow them to gradually acclimatize to the temperature changes.

Next, unless you have a few packets of ready-made floral preservative kicking around, make a homemade solution. The simplest one combines 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and half a teaspoon of bleach in one quart of water. 

Arrange your branches in an upright container such as a tall vase or jar, with a couple of inches of warm water in the bottom (about 110 degrees, the same as for proofing yeast when making bread.) Leave your twigs stand in this for about half an hour, and then fill the jar with floral preservative solution. Check daily and top up with additional solution as required. Put your containers into a cool room with minimal light (no direct light) for several weeks, until buds start to show colour. Then you can move your twigs into a brighter location, and arrange them in a decorative vase, kenzan, or other container. (above, Thunderchild crabapple)

The length of time it will take for your branches to sprout can vary from 10 days (forsythia) to5 weeks, (pieris, magnolia) depending on the time of winter and the type of plant. To keep your branches blooming for a longer period of time, move them into a cooler room at night, and don’t put them in sunny windows. (Above, Jelena Hamamelis)

Occasionally, your coaxed branches will develop small roots. If desired, you can grow these into small saplings; cut the twigs back to about 6 inches in length, and pot up in a good quality potting mixture. When spring comes, plant out in a nursery bed, where they may need to stay for several years until large enough to move into your preferred location. 


  1. I did not know I could force Pieris...wonderful. Thank you for that Jodi. Your list is very encouraging; knowing one can look forward to a few early blooms is a real pick me upper.

  2. Great post Jodi! I have some magnolias blooming now and will pick some forsythia soon. Forcing pruned branches is a great reward for one's efforts. ;>)

  3. a branch came in a vase of tulips a week ago and as i about to throw out the flowers I noticed that the branch had begun to grow roots and had tiny leaves...
    I'm just letting it grow..I wonder what it could be
    Does it need any nourishment

  4. Thanks Jodi - great post! I love being on the verge of Spring and then all of a sudden POOF there is colour everywhere!

  5. What a fantastic idea! Perfect for winter!

  6. Dear Jodi, I love this super-informative post. Now I can't wait to start 'coaxing'. I usually do this with forsythia, but never thought of forcing my bridal veil spirea. Can't wait to try it. P x

  7. Yes indeed, jodi! I'm a big believer in coaxing/forcing spring! (Actually, have this cutie at the lake but way too early ... need hip boots to wade through the snow!)

  8. Great advice! I was just out looking at my Forsythia wondering if I should bring some inside. Perhaps I will try quince as well.

  9. That quience really is pretty. Why don't I have one of those?? I might mush out into the snow and clip a few branches. How were those cabbage rolls?

  10. Would love to invite you over to visit & hopefully take part in Cottage Flora Thursdays..xoox

  11. I do this every year with my pussy willow and forsythia. I've not tried my quince though. Maybe I will! Very informative post, Jodi!

  12. Excellent post and makes me happy just to think about spring blooms. I'm so glad to be listed on your blog--I love ya for it! And...I'm happily awaiting the arrival of your book. I'm going to feature it in the new online magazine! ;)

  13. A lovely post, Jodi. I look forward to some apple and magnolia blossoms. Such a treat while we anticipate warmer days to come.

  14. I've never done that! But, I do have some flowering Quince so I must give this a try. Hope you're having a lovely weekend, Jodi.

  15. I was just thinking about the 'list' and on it is a mock orange. I must have a mock orange. Nana's garden had one and I well remember the fragrance. Perhaps I will snip some branches from Mom's quince. Good idea. Thanks!

  16. I'm going right out to get some forsythia. I have the perfect vase.


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