Awakening Spring

...forcing branches
by Veronica Sliva
by Veronica Sliva


Veronica has been gardening for as long as she can remember. When other kids were reading comics, she was reading the Stokes Seed Catalog. In the past 25 years Veronica has written hundreds of articles about gardens and gardening for magazines and newspapers. She also develops online content for Internet websites. Her regular newspaper column, In the Garden is enjoyed by readers in Durham Region, and The Garden Party is read throughout the greater Toronto area. She is also a regular contributor to

When not consumed by her garden she enjoys photography, birding, spending time at the cottage and ballroom dancing.

Veronica makes presentations on gardening topics to a variety of groups including horticultural societies, garden clubs and service clubs.

Veronica owns Sliva Communications, a business that provides a full a range of writing services including business and marketing material, technical documentation and anything that requires a wordsmith. She is a seasoned technical writer with a post graduate diploma in Technical Communications.

Veronica is a Regional Director for Canada of the Garden Writers' Association, Chair of the Oshawa Valley Botanical Garden Task Force, and a past president of the Brooklin Horticultural Society.

March 28, 2010

In our part of the world winter always seems endless and most of us long for balmier days when the promise of spring is just around the corner. Even though spring is not quite here yet, if you venture outside you’ll notice that the trees and shrubs have changed their form somewhat since last fall when shorter days and cooler temperatures sent everything into a dormant winter slumber. A closer look in the garden reveals little swellings on the branches and twigs. These protrusions are destined to become leaves and flower blossoms when spring arrives.

If, like me you don’t have the patience to wait that long, you can give Mother Nature a nudge and wake her up early, by simulating the onset of spring and triggering the branches into bloom. A bouquet of flowering branches on the kitchen table is just the lift we need at this time of the year

Any time now you can go into the garden and find suitable branches. In general, trees and shrubs that naturally flower the earliest are the easiest to force. Pussy willows, forsythia, Japanese quince and flowering currant are among those easiest to force indoor. The procedure is so simple, anyone can do it.

Here’s how:

  • Go into the garden, and with pruning shears cut several branches. Choose branches that have an attractive shape without being too large or cumbersome. Make sure that they have several swellings so you will get a fuller looking bouquet. If you want flowers, choose shrubs that produce blossoms from buds formed on last year’s wood, such as forsythia, Japanese quince, and mock orange; otherwise you will only get leaves. However, young leaves forced on branches are delicate and beautiful, and should not be overlooked.
  • Prepare the stem-end. This is an important step. Using a sharp knife, make a couple of vertical cuts (5-8 cm) up the branch at the cut end and cleanly strip away some of the bark.
  • After cutting, soak the entire length of the branch for a few hours in warm water (a bathtub works well). This loosens the bud scale, softens the branch fibre, and removes dust and dirt.
  • After soaking, plunge the branches into a container of warm water and add floral preservative if you have it. The water should cover the bottom half of the branches. Small pieces of aquarium charcoal in the bottom of the container help to keep the water sweet.
  • Place the container in a room that is heated at 18° C to 21° C (65° F to 70°F). Mist the branches frequently to soften the buds. If possible, move the branches to a cooler location at night. You can speed up the process by encasing the branches and container in a large clear plastic bag and sealing it, thus creating a miniature greenhouse.
  • When the buds start to burst move the branches into a warmer spot with more light. Keep the water fresh by changing it every few days.

The catkins of pussy willows take the least time to swell, and usually show a lovely display in a week or two. Forsythia isn’t far behind. Other flowering shrubs can take up to five or six weeks before they bloom indoors, but they are well worth the wait. You will notice that the blooms of forced branches are paler than those that mature naturally outside. Sunlight is the factor here…the brightest colors are achieved by exposing the opening blossoms to sunlight.

Besides shrubs that flower, there are shrubs and trees that sport interesting bark textures and colour. The red osier dogwood has, as its name implies, beautiful glossy red bark. Together with the fresh lime green of larch branches, they form a striking arrangement. Or try pairing red osier dogwood with the delicate pink of the flowering almond.

Nothing promises spring quite like the sunny yellow of forsythia combined with pussy willows. This combination is well suited to a country crock and looks very effective beside a fireplace. Flowering quince teamed with fragile looking young birch leaves arranged in a crystal vase makes an elegant statement in any dining room. The combinations are endless and only limited by your imagination.

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