Winter outside, spring inside: How to force branches to leaf

Twigs that have come in from the cold.

Twigs that have come in from the cold.

I’ve noticed forsythia twigs are now for sale in the local grocery stores. If you can’t go out and snip a few twigs yourself, bringing these home to blossom while the outside world is still in the deep freeze is a way to bring spring into your heart.

I also cut aspen, red maple, and anything else that shows a hint of bud. This year I wanted something exotic for a party February 1, and remembered my annual spring forcing of twigs. It was already January 10, and even though I was highly skeptical, I cut large, 6-foot branches. The day before the party they had put out 2” deep red drooping catkins and miniature 1-2” leaves.

I was surprised how quickly the red maple bloomed, but I really worked hard on those, replacing the water daily with warm water, and keeping the bucket very close to the wood stove.

It is time to force twigs again, but I also want to compare leaf out time of different plants. I took a photo the day I cut these, March 23, and will take pictures to show their progress.

This is so simple it seems a bit silly to give instruction, but some of my tips may be useful.

Forcing twigs to bloom and leaf

  1. Cut 2-4 foot lengths of twigs. Look for branches that have many small bud tips showing.
  1. Smash the ends of the twigs, or use a knife to slit the ends 2-4”, allowing more water to be taken up.
  1. Fill a bucket with hot water, and place your branches in that. Set them near a heat source, but not in direct sunlight.
  1. Check water, and replenish with warm water as needed.
  1. If you want a quicker bloom set the bucket of branches in the shower, and give them a few minutes of warm gentle “rain” every day.
  1. I have had most flowering shrubs and leafy branches bloom, the only one I never had success with was lilac.

This is such an easy, no cost way to brighten your home and your spirits with spring, go clip right now!

Read more about the joy of forcing:

Forced forsythia

Forced forsythia

Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.