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Forcing Basics

Martha Stewart Living Television

There are many kinds of shrubs and trees that can be forced into early leaf and flower. You just have to follow a few simple steps. Phil Mueller from Star Valley Flowers shared these helpful tips for forcing plants.

Forcing Tips
Any woody, deciduous shrub or tree that flowers early in the spring  -- such as forsythia, dogwood, and, of course, pussy willows -- makes the best candidate. The general rule is, if it flowers or produces a catkin before leaves, it will most likely be a good forcible item. Pussy willows can last for weeks, while something flowering like a quince or forsythia will drop its flowers after a week to 10 days. This will also depend on how warm and dry your house is and if you keep the plants out of direct sunlight.

Cutting Branches
Most plants need a cold or dormant period of at least six to eight weeks after leaf drop to form new flower buds or catkins. Although the date to cut will vary according to the tree or shrub you choose, it is generally best to wait until after January 1. The closer you cut branches to the actual date the plant naturally flowers, the faster and more uniform the bloom will be. A general rule is that it takes one to four weeks to get full blooms for most plants.

Choosing Containers
At the farm, Phil uses 5-gallon buckets. For home owners, he recommends using something smaller, like a galvanized flower bucket.

Treating the Ends of Branches
Don't hammer the ends of the branches. Instead, make sure the ends are freshly cut before they go into water. A sharp, clean bypass pruner gives the best cut. A fresh cut is the best cut and you should get the branches into water within 20 minutes of cutting, otherwise the exposed cells begin to close and will not absorb water. Once a fresh cut is made, the branches can be put into a clean, sterile container with fresh, warm water. Add a floral preservative to help keep the water fresh.

Caring for Branches
The best spot for the branches while being forced is out of direct sunlight in a cool space, like an unheated garage, basement, or porch. The ideal temperature is 50 to 60 degrees. Keep them away from heating vents and drying drafts or breezes. Try to recreate the outdoor environment indoors; in other words, cool and moist. To do this, give the branches a shower once a week by placing the whole container in the tub and spraying it down. A large plastic bag loosely tied around the branches can also help hold in humidity. Watch for the buds to "break," which means the bud scales will expand and open as the flower/catkin swells. This is the signal that they are ready for arranging.

Special Thanks
Phil Mueller
Star Valley Flowers
51468 County Road C
Soldiers Grove, WI 54655
Phone: 608-735-4100

Resources
For this segment, we used forsythia, magnolia, silver maple, acer saccharinum, red and yellow twig dogwood, quince, and witchhazel (Hamamelis vernis).