Forcing branches is a tradition in Germany around Advent/Christmas and they refer to the branches as being St Barbara’s tree. In Canada, the tradition is more frequently seen at Easter.
Three of the easiest plants to force are forsythia, cherry and pussy willow. Forythia (Forsythia intermedia) is a favourite because of its cheery bright yellow flowers that appear before the leaves. Cherry (Prunus sp.) has blush white blossoms and pussywillow (Salix capper) has soft grey kitty toes that are gentle to the touch.
If you happen to have young family members interested in gardening then this is an easy project for them to undertake.
Use clean, sharp pruners. Take care not to tear the branches. Start by cutting off branches of a cherry or forsythia about 2’ (60cm) long. (Pussy willow can be shorter). Look for branches that have some obvious buds on them, these are where the flowers will come from.
Once enough branches have been collected to fill a large vase or a pail, take them inside to a water source. Fill your containers three quarters full of warm water with a few drops of bleach or a tbsp (15 ml) of mouthwash. (This helps keeps bacteria forming in the water and preventing the plant from hydrating). Using a pair of hand pruners, cut the ends on angle and place in the container.
After 3 days the buds will begin to swell and after 10 days to 2 weeks the flowers will begin to show. Continue adding water as needed. Flowers kept in a cool location will last longer than those in a warm one.
The stems of the branches will often sprout roots on them too. Continue watering and growing the stems like a house plant, Once the roots reach a length of 3” (8cm) they can be planted outside in garden soil.
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