Force it!

Feb 22, 2022

As we approach mid-February I find myself dreaming about cool, not cold, dewy mornings drinking coffee on the porch, probably wrapped in a blanket,  before heading out to the garden to dig into some fresh, soft soil. But according to a certain rodent in Pennsylvania, I’ll have to hang on to that thought as winter continues its long march toward an eventual spring.

In the meantime, a little color boost for the studio, and my mood, is in order. So I say, let’s force it. And by that I mean, I am going to force some flowering branches. This is something that I only occasionally remember to do, but when I do, it is amazing how much joy a few early flowers or pops of baby green leaves will bring when winter just won’t quit. 

So yesterday I headed out to the garden, which is currently, and for the foreseeable future, blanketed in just under a foot of snow, to find myself some flowers. I started with Forsythia, as it is the earliest flowering shrub in my garden, and so I am hoping the buds, under the right conditions, are ready to burst open. I also snipped a couple of lilac branches, which I have never tried, but have heard that it is possible. If you would like to give it a try, here are some things to consider:

  • The buds of many ornamental trees and shrubs, which set their flower buds during the previous growing season, need to experience a period of dormancy, and about six to eight weeks of cold temperatures, before they will open. So depending on where you are geographically, these conditions may be met between late January into late February or early March.

  • After the dormant, cooled buds have been exposed to moisture and warmth, they will come out of dormancy and open, which is where forcing comes in. You can create these conditions for the branches in your home.

  • Choose branches with flower buds on them – it can be hard to tell if they are flower or leaf buds, but you can cut one open to be sure, although honestly I love the leaves almost as much:) It is best to snip your branches on a warm sunny day, above freezing if possible. Choose branches that are less than ½ inch in diameter.

  • Bring them inside immediately and submerge them in very warm water. If you have any flower preservative handy (maybe some packets left over in your junk drawer?), add it to the warm water. Re-cut the stems while they are under the water to be sure they are able to take water into their stems.

  • Another option is to soak the branches in a bathtub overnight to be sure they absorb a lot of water.

  • If you can, keep the branches in a cool-ish (60 degrees F) place for a couple of days before bringing them into a very warm house. It’s also good to mist them every so often, as a lot of houses are quite dry in the winter.

  • You can cut a few stems every couple of weeks for continuous flowers until spring finally arrives.