By Ruth Seward
When our Tree Stewards are out in the field, pruning trees in the cold days of winter, we recycle the branches of flowering species to force their blooms indoors. The best time to prune trees and woody plants, in New England, is the middle of winter. This is also a rewarding time to have sweet blossoms in your home. Forcing tree blossoms takes a little work, but it is worth the effort, especially if you are pruning your flowering trees anyway.
These are the steps we take to force tree blooms indoors: First, make a good pruning cut on the plant – cutting on an angle just at the branch collar. Be sure your pruning shears are sharp for the cleanest, least invasive cut. Sort out the branches with the most flower buds on them. Since spring buds are already on branches, the more buds you have the more flowers you will force to bloom.
Bring the branches inside. Make a tiny slit in the center of the branch end and place in a vase of warm water. The slit allows the branch to take up more water. If there are buds below the water line, gently remove them by hand. Keep the branches in the warm water overnight, out of direct sunlight and in a warm spot of your home.
The next day, cut the branch ends to fit the vase that you wish to display your blooms. Some people add gravel at the base of the container, to help secure the branches. You can also add cut flower food to the water, to prolong the blooms and keep the cut branches fresh. For optimal blooming conditions, keep branches in a cooler, darker spot in your home until the blooms are just about to open. Then place them in a sunnier location, out of direct sunlight. Adding humidity to the air, also improves blooming conditions. Simply mist the branches 2-3 times each day. However, I have had success with blooms by simply placing the branches out of direct sunlight, in my living room without misting, adding food or keeping in a dark location. Changing the water every 2-3 days is important to keep the branches fresh.
Different flower blooms take different amounts of time to bloom but, in general, they take between 2-6 weeks to bloom. The blooms will last up to two weeks, in optimal conditions. Some suggestions of species to try: Pussy willow (and other willows), Plum, Crabapple, Redbud, Dogwood, Cherry, Apple and Serviceberry. Woody plants can provide good blooms too. Try Witch Hazel, Flowering Quince, Wisteria and Rhododendrons for lovely flowers inside. Enjoy!
Ruth Seward is director of Outreach & Community Engagement for Tower Hill Botanic Garden.