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Forcing branches into bloom     Send a link to a friend

[JAN. 21, 2005]  URBANA -- A tall vase of blooming forsythia branches can chase away the winter blahs, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Bring a bit of spring indoors by gathering branches of flowering deciduous shrubs and trees and forcing them to bloom or leaf out early in your home," said Susan Grupp.

When temperatures rise above freezing in late January and February, Grupp suggests selecting and cutting branches that have many plump buds.

"Cut a few more branches than you expect to use because some may not absorb water satisfactorily," said Grupp. "Use a sharp blade, and take care not to disfigure the shrub or tree."

Grupp recommends using pruning shears or a sharp knife to carefully split the cut end 1 to 4 inches. Place the cut branches in a container of warm water and re-cut 1 inch from the base of the stem.

"This will help prevent air from entering the stem through the cut end, blocking water uptake," she explained. "Remove any buds and twigs that will be under water."

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The container should be placed in a warm room, 60 to 70 degrees F, and the water changed every few days. A floral preservative may be added to the container water to help control bacteria.

"It may take one to eight weeks for the blossoms to open," she said. "The closer to their natural bloom time that you cut the branches, the sooner they will open."

Grupp recommended several plants available in gardens or for purchase in branch form from local florists. They are redbud, Japanese or flowering quince, flowering dogwood, vernal witch hazel, hawthorn, forsythia, honeysuckle, saucer magnolia, star magnolia, apple and crab apple, flowering almond, cherry, and plum, European pussy willow, spirea, lilac, and viburnum.

[University of Illinois news release]

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