Every season I try to have a little bit of nature indoors. During the snowy winter months my favorite bits of the outside world are flowering branches that lie dormant. Forsythia, apple, peach and pussy willow are in my garden and orchard so those are the branches I use for forcing.
The flower buds on spring blooming trees and shrubs are fully and perfectly formed by the middle to end of the fall. All that’s required for the branches to bloom and flower is warm temperatures and water.
Usually it takes 6 to 8 weeks of cold weather to “prime” branches before the flower buds on most trees and shrubs will awaken from their winter dormancy. The branches have a built-in “inner clock”. It’s Nature’s way of protecting the flower buds from opening prematurely during a warm spell and then being destroyed by the returning cold weather. It’s one of God’s many ways of insuring that a tree or shrub will set fruit or go to seed.
I carry sharp heavy-duty pruners with me when I go scouting for branches. Frozen branches can be very hard to cut through. I look for flowering shrubs or trees with large well-formed buds and try to pick branches that will fit the vase I have in mind. I never cut too many branches from one tree or shrub. A little cutting goes a long way.
After the branches come into the house the bottom of the stem has to receive special treatment. Any cut made on a branch will seal over. So it’s important to either scrape away some of the skin on the branch or to smash the end of the branch before it is placed into water. By opening up the bark, water will be able to travel up the branch and keep it fresh and alive.
The buds of certain types of branches need a little further treatment to ensure a nice bloom. Apple, peach, plum and pears should be soaked overnight in room temperature water before they are placed into a vase. I use the bathtub. But a plastic wallpaper tray works well if you have one.
Once placed in a vase the branches should be kept in a cool location and away from direct sunlight. Spring comes slowly. It doesn’t come all in one day. We are trying to mimic Spring.
Once the flower buds begin to fatten or plump up they can be moved to filtered sunlight. In fact a modest amount of sunlight will be important to the flower buds at this stage. A little sunlight helps them to make a good color.