Forcing spring flowering trees and shrubs to bloom indoors

Bring an early spring indoors with blooms from flowering trees and shrubs.

Pussy willow shoots in bloom. Photo by Bob Bricault, MSU Extension.
Pussy willow shoots in bloom. Photo by Bob Bricault, MSU Extension.

Longing for a bit of color during a long, gray winter? April flowers seem too far off? Try your hand at forcing blooms indoors from some of your favorite spring flowering trees and shrubs.

Plants that are early spring bloomers would work the best. Forsythia, red maple, crabapple, pussy willow, redbud, flowering dogwood, cherry and serviceberry are all plants that will bloom from cuttings. These early spring bloomers formed their flower buds the previous growing season. These dormant flower buds are ready to bloom as soon as consistent warmer temperatures arrive. Bringing cuttings indoors into warmer conditions overcomes the flower bud’s winter dormancy.

Many flowering plants need a chilling requirement to induce flowering in spring. These flower buds usually require at least eight weeks of temperatures below 40 degrees. By late February, we had exceeded the necessary cold period. Once the chilling period is reached, it is possible for cut branches to produce blooms indoors.

When selecting cuttings, look for branches with a large percentage of flower buds. Flower buds are much larger than vegetative buds on trees and shrubs. Avoid late blooming plants like Rose of Sharon since all current buds are vegetative. Rose of Sharon blooms will form on newly developing branches this spring and bloom at the beginning of summer. To force spring blooms indoors, we need plants that currently have developed flower buds.

Using sharp pruners, cut branches that are about 1 to 2 feet long. Some experts suggest cutting the branches on a day that is above-freezing. Avoid using vigorous shoots at the base of plants (sucker growth) or fast growing shoots (water sprouts) that grow straight up from branches, as these will not likely have flower buds.

Take a few cuttings from each tree. Remove buds and twigs from a 4-inch segment at the cut end of the branch and submerge it in water. Four to 5 inches of water is deep enough to keep the cut end of branches submerged. A 5-gallon bucket works well for this task.

Store the bucket with branches in a cool area of the house, usually about 60 degrees, and place in low light. A basement or a room where the temperature is turned down works well. Change the water in the container frequently to prevent growth of bacteria and fungi that can prevent uptake of water into the cuttings. Inspect daily and once flower buds begin to open, move the branches to a room with bright light, but not direct light. Place in a large vase with water. The bloom period will last longer in a cool room.

The closer we get to natural bloom time, the shorter the period of time it takes for the branches to bloom from cuttings. Pussy willow, which blooms in late winter, will bloom from cuttings very quickly, while plants like red maple, dogwoods and crabapples may take a few weeks to bloom from cuttings.

Willow branches may flower from cuttings in two weeks, while lilac and mockorange may require four weeks. Imagine lilac blooms bringing color into your home by early April along with the fragrance we all come to associate with spring time. Continuing to take cuttings for the next couple of weeks will provide continuous indoor blooms and an early spring to your home.

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