How to Force Branches to Bloom Big Indoors—and Outwit Spring

If ever there was a time to hasten the triumphant arrival of spring, it is the year 2021.


How did you manage to make the cut branches of the flowering trees bloom? Join the discussion below.

This year we opted for something unexpected: a floating shoot that you bring inside to allow, for example, large lilac flowers, or magnolias, or even rhododendrons to bloom while it is still windy outside.

When flowers like these bloom indoors, it’s just amazing, says Jane Godshalk, a floral instructor at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. For us, in the east, or some other cold and wet place? It’s a rebirth.

Magnolias bloom before the leaves appear.



Although it’s a little more complicated to make large-flowered plants bloom than the usual ones like Trader Joe’s cherry blossoms, this DIY flower project is simple enough for a beginner, according to gardeners and florists.

How do you do that? Grab a sharp pair of pruning shears and head to your yard (or your neighbor’s, if you have permission). Cut off branches at least 15 cm long that are already forming visible flower buds. For rhododendrons and other very large-flowered plants, applies: The bigger the button, the greater the chance of success, says Michael Reed, professor emeritus at UC Davis.

Make sure the lilac’s flower buds, which are larger and less pointed than the leaf buds, are formed before attempting to force the branches.



Once you put them inside, where the temperature is much warmer, the branches usually flower one to four weeks earlier than if you left them outside. But they will need help.

For plants with very large flowers, such as the rhododendron shown here: The bigger the button, the greater the chance of success.



First, place them in hot water in a large vase or sturdy urn that won’t tip over under their weight. Then you have to replace the starch that was stored in their stems and roots, Reed said. To mimic the emergence of plants by the conversion of starch to sugar, he recommends mixing a solution of one cup of 7-Up and ¼ teaspoon of bleach with 2½ cups of water. 7-Up also contains citric acid, which helps the water flow freely through the stems, he says, and the bleach kills bacteria.

Breaking the ends of the stems to promote water uptake accelerates the growth of bacteria and can lead to premature death. Even if you want to use a see-through vase so you can see the stems, you don’t want to see splinters, says Todd Carr, co-owner of the floral design studio Hort and Pott in Oak Hill, New York. Place them in direct or indirect sunlight and enjoy the spectacle.

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