The Q&A Archives: Forcing Lilac Branches

Question: I have recently pruned my lilac tree and saved the branched to be forced inside. The leaves have come out nicely and I see some lilac spikes forming but I am concerned about the color (very light green). I have the branches in a vase away from direct sunlight. Is there anything I can add to the water to keep it healthy and blooming, or is forcing lilac just not done?

Answer: Forcing bloom on woody branches works best when done about 6 weeks before a plant?s natural bloom time. In mid-January, you can cut branches of the earliest blooming plants like Nanking cherry, forsythia and witch hazel. In early February you might try redbud, native plum, aspens or birch for their pendulous catkins, and even red maples for their colorful winged samaras and young leaves. By late February, consider apple, crabapple, cherry and plum. To scent your room, you can try late forcing of lilacs or honeysuckle. Here's how:

Prune a 1 to 2 foot long length of branch. Note that a 1-to-2 year old stem will usually have the most flower buds. The flower buds are generally fatter and more rounded than leaf buds. You can even cut a few open to look for the miniaturized flower parts inside.

Submerge branches in room temperature water overnight. Recut the ends using a slanting cut the next day. Cut slits from the cut up the branch for several inches to promote water uptake. Place in a vase of 65 degree water in a bright room away from heaters and direct sun. The brighter the room, the better the quality of bloom. Flowers should appear in a few weeks. If it doesn?t work the first time you try a plant, cut branches a few weeks later and try again. Misted flowers and catkins can last for up to a week in a cool, 60 degree room. Branches with leaves may last longer.

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