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Main Content

Forcing Spring-Flowering Shrubs to Bloom Early

Benjamin Kilbride, Editorial Assistant at The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Even out of season, it’s possible to enjoy the vibrant color of spring flowers!

What Is Forcing Early Blooming?

Forcing early blooming is the process of cutting a branch from a spring-flowering shrub, bringing it inside, and placing it in water under the right conditions to encourage it to flower.

Why Force Shrubs to Bloom?

If you’re feeling impatient for spring to begin, forcing cut shrubs to bloom is a great way to get a taste (or smell) of spring flowers a little early!

When Can Branches Be Cut?

Branches for forcing can be cut from late January all of the way into spring.

Common Spring-Flowering Shrubs

Here are six examples, with flower colors, of spring-flowering shrubs that are good for forcing:

Azalea—white, orange, red, and purple

Forsythia—bright golden yellow

Hydrangea—white, pink, and purple

Lilac—white, pink, blue, and purple.

Pussywillow—soft white

Rhododendron—white, yellow, pink, red, and purple

How to Force Branches to Bloom

Choose a Few Branches

To begin, identify branches that have plump, swollen flower buds along the stems. There will be both flower and leaf buds on branches, but the flower buds will be slightly rounder and larger than the leaf buds.

Cut at an Angle

After selecting your branches, cut them at an angle with a pair of strong shears or loppers for a clean cut. Branches can be 6 to 18 inches long. Immediately bring the branches inside after cutting.

Place in Water

Fill a tall vase with warm water. Cut the end of each branch again, remove any extra leaf buds low on the branch, and place them in the vase.

Move to a Cool Location

Place the vase and branches in a cool room away from sunlight—a good place is in a basement. Give the branches some time to transition and acclimate to their new environment by leaving them for 2 to 3 weeks. During this time, the buds will begin to swell. Make sure to change the water once a week or anytime it starts to become cloudy. 

Display the Blooming Branches

Once the buds open, move the vase and branches out into the open on display. Continue changing the water regularly. Enjoy your early spring flowers!