“Forcing” flowering branches is the term used for bringing plants indoors to bloom. The term may be a tad too strong for cut branches, though. Forcing, in regards to bulbs, can mean months of chilling, then planting, then watering, then growing. Bulbs really need some strong urging to grow and bloom indoors. Forcing flowering branches, however, requires more of a gentle encouragement than a strong arm.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the art of forcing bulbs indoors. I do it myself. The work is therapeutic and the results are worthwhile. Seeing and smelling signs of spring far before they will be enjoyed in the garden is an edifying experience. But I can also appreciate the ease in snipping branches outdoors for quick use in flower arrangements around the house.
When To Cut
You can go on the hunt for branches to force in late winter, after at least six weeks of cold weather. The buds on many flowering trees and shrubs will have formed the previous year and are just awaiting a few weeks of warm weather to break dormancy. In this case, bring the cut branches into the house, put them in water, and set them in a cool, shady location so they can gradually warm up to the indoor temperatures. It may take a few weeks for them to bloom, but they will be decorating your table far sooner than your garden this way.
Personally, I like to bring in branches just before they are about to bloom outdoors. If the temperature is already rising and you see that the buds are beginning to swell, snip the branches and they should flower in a few days. Instant gratification!
How to Cut
Cut branches using clean pruners and proper cuts to protect the rest of the plant you are leaving behind. Proper pruning cuts are made at the base of the stem that you want to remove where it grows from the trunk, ground, or larger branch. You will cut just at the top of the branch collar, a widened part of the branch where it joins the larger branch or trunk. Clean, sharp pruners will ensure that your cuts are clean and smooth. Do not leave stubs (a length of branch that is left above the collar but bears no buds) or tear the branch off. Both of these are damaging to the tree or shrub you are hoping to keep in your garden!
Once you have removed the branches from the host plant properly, trim and discard any parts of the branches that aren’t decorative. Cut the base of the stem at an angle and hit it a few times with a hammer to really spread open the wood to absorb the most water. Re-cut and smash the branch bases every few days to keep the flowers lasting as long as possible.
Arranging Flowering Branches
Arrange flowering branches in narrow-necked vases, bottles, or mason jars (a wide neck will not hold the arrangement upright). Large branches look stunning in a demijohn or a suitable replacement like this glass apple juice bottle.
Balance the arrangement with tall arching branches in multiple directions, and some shorter branches in the center to create fullness.