I love anything that gives me a jump start on spring. Forcing forsythia indoors lets me have the showy yellow flowers of the well known harbinger of spring – forsythia bushes – to enjoy indoors well before they give you their cheery spring greeting outside. Luckily, it is very easy to force forsythia blooms in the home.
If you are impatient for winter to be gone and the warmth of the sun’s rays to arrive, forcing bushes indoors is a great way to bring spring into your home. Forcing blooms is the process of making a plant give out flower buds before it’s natural time to do this in the yard.
It’s hard to believe that this bush will be just covered in flowers in just a few weeks. And I don’t plan to wait! Forcing forsythia indoors is just the thing to get rid of the winter doldrums!
Wondering when to get forsythia in the ground outdoors? See my tips for planting forsythia here.
When to try to Force Forsythia Blooms Inside.
There are a few things to keep in mind when you decide to force forsythia blooms before nature says it’s their turn. Timing matters when forcing branches into bloom.
Choose a day above freezing.
Making sure that the weather is not too cold when you cut the branches will give you a better chance of having them sprout indoors later. The buds will get a chance to expand a bit from the warmth. It is better to go with Mother Nature than to fight her. We get lots of warm winter days here in NC and I choose my branches on days like this when it has been above freezing for three days running, if I can.
Check for Buds anytime in early to late winter.
Here in zone 7b, I look in late December and early January, depending on how cold it has gotten. When to start checking depends on your hardiness zone, since forsythia will flower early in the warmer zones, so you’ll need to start looking in early winter.
The buds will show as small, elongated bumps of growth and will be pointed and either green, brownish or yellowish all along the stem. It’s a good idea to keep checking early to make sure that you get the branches before they actually come out of dormancy.
Choose stems with lots of buds
Cut stems that have many flower buds all along the stem if you can. This will give you a fuller vase of flowers later.
Tips for forcing forsythia indoors
Use Sharp Pruners
Once you find that the buds have appeared, cut branches less than 3 feet long on a diagonal with very sharp pruners. As I choose the branches, I look for those that are some that I might want to prune in a few months.
Forsythia will force out new growth and the branches should be pruned all the way to the ground. So if I see branches that are already headed, I know those are good candidates for forcing and I choose them. (See more tips for pruning forsythia bushes here. And learn about renovation and hard pruning of forsythia here.)
Use Warm Water
Just like choosing a warm day to do this project, using warm water helps the process along. Fill a bucket with warm water and place your branches in it, trimming off the bottom pieces of buds and branch tips to keep the water clean.
Trim the branches a second time
After the branches have been sitting in the water for a few minutes, use the pruners to trim off another inch of stem. Allow the branches to soak up the warm water for a couple of hours. Make your cuts on the diagonal to give a lot of surface room for the branches to soak up water.
Use a Hammer
If you want even more surface area for the water to enter, use a hammer or rubber mallet to hammer the ends. This will give even more surface area for the water to enter the stems and will speed up the forcing process.
Remove buds below the water level
The branches will have small buds all along their length. If you leave these in under the water level, they will rot and cause bacteria to grow in the water. Fortunately, they are easy to remove. Just use your thumb to rub them off.
Change the water
When forcing forsythia, it’s important to make sure that the water is clean. After a couple of hours, change the water. If you have some floral preservative, you can add it to the water now to help keep the water clean longer. If you allow bacteria to grow, your vase of pretty blooms will smell funky, not fragrant!
Continue changing the water every few days and also occasionally pruning and hammering the branches for several weeks until the blooms are starting to develop. This keeps the branches from sealing off and not allowing water to be absorbed.
Give them some sun
Forcing forsythia indoors is an easier job if you give the branches some humidity (misting with a plant mister helps) and giving them ample sunlight. I use a large vase that sits near but not right in front of a south facing window, until they have started to sprout.
I continue to change the water as becomes cloudy or murky. Forcing is best done in a room that will be generally in the 60-70 degree range to simulate spring temps outdoors. My buds took just about two weeks to start forming and there are literally dozens and dozens of them to open up.
Use a Vase To Display the blooms
Once the blooms have started to appear, place them in a decorative vase that fits the number of blooms that you have and put them on display. Change the water every few days and keep them in a sunny spot with indirect light. (Too much sunlight will cause the blooms to fade.)
How long does it take to force forsythia blooms?
It can take from 1 week to a couple of months for the blooms to appear, depending on when they were cut and how close to blooming time it was. Be patient. It is worth the wait to get those cheery yellow flowers indoors in the dead of winter.
This vase of buds took about a month and the blossoms are slowly changing over to green leaves. It is such a pretty thing to have in my kitchen when the weather is so cold outside!
You will get the flowers before any leaves appear. It seems back to front but that is the way forsythia flowers.
The closer to their normal blooming time that you cut the branches, the sooner you will have the flowers. But one of the joys of forcing forsythia indoors is to do this in the colder weeks of winter. For, me it’s worth the wait!
Will roots develop?
Depending on how woody the stems are that you chose, you may find that some of the stems that have been forced will develop roots. This is an added bonus! When the flowers have faded, use the rooted stems for new plants in the garden. Don’t you just love new plants for free?
Some other spring blooming plants to force:
Forsythia is not the only shrub that you can force indoors. It’s just one of the earliest ones. Here are a few other choices for shrubs that you can force indoors:
- Honeysuckle (cut in mid January)
- Flowering Quince (cut in mid February)
- Flowering Dogwood (cut in Mid March)
Hydrangeas, azaleas, flowering cherry trees, pussy willows and rhododendrons are also good choices.
Trudging out into the snow and come back with a handful of forsythia branches to force indoors will become a new gardening tradition each year once you see how easy it is to get those cheery yellow flowers to bloom inside each winter.
So what are you waiting for? Go collect a handful of “dead branches” and try your hand at forcing forsythia today. You’ll be glad you did in just a few weeks!
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