Remember the poem…”April showers bring may flowers”…? Well you can have them earlier than May.
I select my branches from trees that are early bloomers like wild cherry and plum. Though, it’s also possible to force lilacs and early flowering azaleas, the results aren’t always as good.
Forcing branches is simple and almost foolproof. Timing is the most important consideration because once the flowers open up, they only last a very short time.
Pick your branches no more than five to seven days ahead of when you plan to use them. Look for branches with large swollen buds (these usually contain the flowers) or look for buds that are showing some color.
If you look at the picture of the lilac buds (above) you can see a marked difference in the size of the buds. The larger terminal buds (on the tips) contain flowers. The smaller side buds contain leaves.
Cut the branches at an angle and try to take branches that really need to be pruned out so that you don’t ruin the shape of your shrub.
It helps to crush the ends of the branches a bit with a mallet or small hammer. This will allow them to take up water faster. Before you put the branches in your vase, trim all the leaves and buds below the waterline so that it doesn’t pollute the water. You can add a drop of chlorine bleach to the water to prevent bacteria build up too.
Now put your vase of branches where they’ll stay cool, like an unheated garage or covered porch. They’ll continue to open up but the cold will slow them down so they won’t bolt or bloom before you need them. Check the water daily and add more if needed.
About two to three days before you want them to open, bring your branches indoors into a warm sunny room to finish opening.
Don’t be surprised if some branches develop roots. Forsythia roots very easily and you can plant the rooted cuttings.