How to Force Branches for Gorgeous Winter Color

Get a jump on spring by forcing branches of trees and shrubs into beautiful bloom.

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Forsythia

Forsythia is easy to force indoors. As with all plants for forcing, cut stems six to eight weeks ahead of normal bloom time. Forsythia buds typically take 7 to 21 days to open fully. If you want to grow your own forsythia, look for bushes in a variety of sizes, from dwarf to large and sprawling. There’s one to fit any yard. Hardy in Zones 3-8.

Centennial Blush Star Magnolia

Savor beautiful blooms loaded with fragrance by forcing stems of star magnolia. You only need one stem to scent a room with rich perfume. As with all branches for forcing, choose ones where flower buds are swelling and enlarged. Bud covers on star magnolia blossoms are fuzzy. This plant grows to form a large shrub or small tree. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

Double Take Peach Flowering Quince

Flowering quince opens blossoms in very early spring, often before leaves appear on branches. It’s a classic for forcing and is usually ready to go by mid-February in most zones that receive snow in winter. Flowering quince is traditionally a thorny plant, but Double Take types offer stems without thorns and a carefree, low-maintenance personality. This is a drought and heat tolerant shrub. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

Pussy Willow

Pussy willow is a forcing favorite that usually opens in one to three weeks. Once the catkins (the fuzzy buds) are fully open, remove stems from water and let them dry. They’ll last for years looking fresh and touchable. Two excellent choices for forcing include giant pussy willow (Salix ‘Winter Glory’; hardy in Zones 4-9) and black pussy willow (Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’; hardy in Zones 5-9).

Double Flowering Plum

Double flowering plum opens frilly pink flowers loaded with petals. These stems can take up to 4 weeks for buds to open indoors. For best success with this and all forced branches, remember to change vase water every other day and add a splash of bleach or hydrogen peroxide to help keep bacteria under control. Flowering plum grows to be a large shrub or small tree, 10 to 12 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 3-6.

Japanese Kerria

Japanese kerria adds color to winter with bright green stems. In spring, cheery yellow blossoms turn branches into wands of bloom. This shrub grows 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. As you cut branches for forcing, place cuts to help control growth and rein in wandering size. Japanese kerria is a great shrub for dry shade. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

Korean Spice Viburnum 

Korean spice viburnum is beloved for its wonderful fragrance that can perfume an entire yard in mid-spring. You just need one branch in a bud vase to unleash the perfume indoors, but cut a few stems for a stunning bouquet. Flower clusters start with pink buds that open to reveal white blossoms. Korean spice viburnum has good fall color with red leaves. This viburnum grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-8.

'Spring Bride' Crabapple 

Delicate pink blushing buds open to reveal white flowers on ‘Spring Bride’ crabapple. This beauty was developed in Canada, so it withstands cold winters with ease. Cut branches for forcing after flower buds swell. Stems may take up to four weeks to flower indoors. Hardy in Zones 4-7.

Redbud

Redbud tree branches turn into wands of bloom in early spring. Capture some of that magic by cutting a few stems to bring indoors. Gather branches in mid to late winter, depending on where you live. Watch for swelling flower buds as a clue that plants are nearing ideal forcing time. With any woody stems that you’re forcing, smash stem ends with a mallet to help increase water uptake in the vase. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

Ornamental Flowering Cherry

Flowering cherries are a beloved symbol of spring. Bring a few of those branches indoors to enjoy a stunning bouquet of floral loveliness. Cherry stems often take up to four weeks to flower. Keep the water in your forcing vase changed every other day to prevent bacteria build-up. ZuZu flowering cherry (shown) is a shrub version of the classic tree, growing three to five feet tall and wide. It’s the perfect size for any yard. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

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