Why wait for spring time to enjoy colorful plants such as forsythia, crabapple and witch-hazel? Many plants will flower from cuttings taken in the wintertime. Even the catkins (fuzzy flower heads) of the pussy willow will open indoors from cuttings. This is an easy process that anyone can do.
Choose branches from trees and shrubs that flower in the spring. These plants developed their flower buds during the previous summer. Flower buds are usually plump and rounded compared to buds from which leaves develop. Do not attempt to force buds to open on plants that flower later in the summer such as Rose of Sharon. This type of plant does not develop flower buds until the growing season begins. If you did try to use a later blooming plant, you would likely get leaves instead of blooms.
Since we are in the midst of winter, all our woody plants are in a dormant stage. For plants to bloom indoors, about eight weeks of temperatures less than 40 degrees is needed before taking cuttings. While forsythia and witch-hazel will bloom fairly quickly when brought indoors, other plants like crabapple, hawthorn and red maple require a longer period. The closer cuttings are taken to spring time, the easier it is to get them to bloom indoors. Other plants that bloom from cuttings include quince, redbud, flowering dogwood, flowering cherries, apples, serviceberry, willows and birches.
Cuttings may need to be delayed until February to give plants the eight weeks of exposure to temperatures below 40 degrees. Temperatures across most of Michigan averaged about 40 into mid- to late November. Choose branches that have a large proportion of flower buds. Use sharp hand pruners to cut branches that are at least 1 foot long. Immediately put cut stems into a bucket of warm water. A common practice to help the stems take up water is to cut a short slit up from the bottom of the stem prior to placing the cut branches into the water.
Keep branches in a cool area in the house, about 60 degrees, much like temperatures in a basement. Also, make sure the branches are kept out of bright light or direct light. Bright light and low humidity can dry out the branches, preventing blooms from opening. This process can two to five weeks, depending on the species of plant. Change water often and check on the blooms. Misting the stems once or twice a day can also prevent the buds from drying out.
Once the flower buds begin to open, move the plants to a brighter location for display. Cooler temperatures will prolong length of bloom time.
By taking cuttings at different times through the winter, you can have indoor displays of flowers from mid-winter to spring. This smart gardening tip is a nice way to bring color and a bit of spring to the gray overcast days of winter.
If you have questions about forcing flowering branches, care of holiday plants like Poinsettia or problems with indoor plants, contact the Michigan State University Extension Garden Line to talk to a Master Gardener volunteer at the toll free number 888-678-3464.
(Article written by Bob Bricault, Michigan State University Extension)