Impatient for the blooms of spring? Try forcing branches indoors.

It has been a really difficult winter. I know we are all impatient for it to end and for the outdoor blooms to begin. We need flowers.

It is during winters like this that I remember my mother’s remedy for the late-winter blues. It has been a while since I suggested readers duplicate her efforts. This year in particular, however, I encourage readers to get early summer blooms by forcing branches of applicable plants.

For the uninitiated, lots of shrubs and trees already have tiny flower buds developed. All they need is warm weather. The idea is to go out and cut branches off some of these and bring them indoors where there are high temperatures which will cause these buds to grow and open, producing flowers.

For starters, which Alaska trees and shrubs can you use? It may be surprising to see how many we have. Start with lilacs, which are notorious for setting flower buds right after they bloom. Then there is my mother’s favorite forcing shrub, forsythia, whose yellow blooms are extremely easy to force. Outdoors, they produce flowers before leaves really open.

Had she lived in Alaska, I believe my mom’s next favorite forcing shrub would be the Rose Tree of China, which is actually in the almond family. These plants, like the the forsythia, bloom before greening up. The pink, popcorn-sized blossoms are unbeatable.

Some readers have apple and cherry trees. Yup, these work well and since you need to prune these trees, you can really get a bang for your buck. Spirea and service berry also force well. If you want just green leaves, you can utilize birch branches.

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Forcing is really, really easy. The most difficult part may be going out into the yard and cutting the branches you will use. Ideally they should be at least 18 inches long. Use sharp pruners so you get a clean cut. If you are going to cut up next to the trunk, leave one-quarter to one-half of the limb attached to the trunk so it will heal properly.

Once gathered, bring your branches indoors and slit the base of each branch, creating a 2- to 4-inch slit. Then put them in a bucket or tub of warm water. If possible, put the whole branch under the water and leave it there overnight. If you can’t put the whole branch under water, put as much of the base in as you can.

After soaking for 24 hours, it is time to put the branch into its display container or vase and fill with warm water. This should then be placed in a room where it is at least 50 degrees and there is sunlight. The higher the temperature, the quicker the branch will bloom, so there is nothing wrong with placing them in a room that is 70 degrees. Note, however, that blooms appearing when it is warmer won’t last as long as those that produce at 50 degrees.

It can take anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks to get indoor blooms, but it will still be before outdoor blossoms appear. Do change the water often as you would with any flower display, daily if possible.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Register for the spring conference if there are still seats. Go to

Seeds to start: Lobelia, needs 20 days to germinate, seeds need light so don’t cover;; snapdragons, 10 days to germinate and need light and cool temperatures; carnation, two days to germinate; verbena, 20 days to germinate; and pelargonium

Herbs to start: Lavender, lovage, lemon balm

Corms to start: Glads, unless you want to plant them directly

Tubers to start: Dahlia, yacon

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.