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ASK A MASTER GARDENER: Blooming forsythia branches indoors

Q: How do I force forsythia branches, so they'll bloom in the house? I can't wait any longer for spring!

A: Forcing branches from flowering shrubs is a fun and easy way to get some color and fragrance inside before spring arrives. Forsythia branches are a good choice. You can also try bringing in branches from other shrubs or trees, such as crab apples or apples, dogwood, spirea (bridal wreath), lilac, honeysuckle, magnolia, mock orange, pussy willow and flowering plum.

Forsythia and pussy willow tend to be pretty easy to coax into making an indoor display. Branches from fruit trees are a little more difficult, but worth a try.

March is a good time to try forcing some branches.

Choose branches that have swollen flower buds and cut them with a sharp knife or pruning shears. It's best to cut them when the temperature is above freezing, but you can still do your gathering when it's colder. If it's below freezing, it's a good idea to soak the branches in cool water for a couple of hours once you've got them inside. If it's above freezing, you can skip that step.

After soaking (if needed), cut the branches again and stand them in a container of warm water. You can display your bare branches to enjoy watching them start to bud, or you can store them in a cool place until the flowers start to emerge, and then make an arrangement with them and set it out where everyone can admire it. It may take several weeks for the branches to bloom. Don't let them run out of water, and don't put them in direct sun. A cool location and a floral preservative may help keep them blooming longer.