February 2018, What to do in the garden

Forcing Witch Hazel

One of the great things about some plants is that you can trick them into thinking that it’s time to bloom weeks ahead of their natural blooming schedule. This is called forcing. Nurseries that grow flowers for flower shows do it on a grand scale, even forcing trees so that they will be in blossom early. It’s complicated if you get into it that seriously, but a few plants are so easy to force that anyone can do it.

The timing is important. You can’t cut any old branch at any old time and expect it to do something. Most plants need a certain number of weeks of cold in order to flower. So you need to know approximately when that particular plant will be ready. In the Northeast, the late winter / early spring-blooming Witch Hazels are ready in early February. (See last week’s blog post for descriptions of the various types of Witch Hazels.) By this time the buds have begun to swell, and you can sometimes see the tiniest bit of color showing where the new petals are about to emerge from.

At that time, all you need are some sharp pruners, a vase of water, and a warm room. Cut several branches, put them in the vase of water, and wait. In a few hours to a few days the room will be full of sweetly scented blossoms. Tada!

Life is good.


Cut a branch of Witch Hazel with a slanted cut, like in the picture, and put it in the water.
A day or two later, the buds will begin to break open.
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A week later, it’s a party!

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Witch Hazel

6 thoughts on “Forcing Witch Hazel”

  1. We do not have witch hazel, but when I was a kid, my mother would force apricot blossoms from the orchard. When I prune the fruit trees, I leave a few unpruned stems for this.

      1. Most people do it with flowering cherries or flowering crabapples, but it works with fruiting trees as well. I used to to it with a purple leaf plum because there was one in the front garden. My mother did it with apricot because there were hundreds of trees in the orchard. Her favorite is apple blossoms. I used to bring her some from work.

  2. VERY good article Quickie!
    My questions :
    How warm of a room do you need?
    How often do you change the water in the vase, and do you add food/sugar to it?
    Thanks, Sherry

  3. The pictures on the blog are of a branch that I forced last week. I didn’t do anything special. It was in my studio which is around 65-68 degrees. I didn’t change the water (well, once, but that’s because I knocked the vase over – I don’t usually change it) nor did I add anything to the water. It’s pretty much a no-brainer. And it smells so good!

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