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How To Force Fruit Tree Branches into Bloom

How To Force Fruit Tree Branches - LivingHomegrown.com

Every time we winter prune our fruit trees (which is a good thing to do), we are cutting off potential blooms.

It can’t be helped.

But rather than compost those cut branches, we can force them to flower and enjoy them as a cut flower bouquet during the winter months.

Up until recently, I had never forced a fruit tree branch before.

Instead, I had forced branches of pussy willow and forsythia and I had forced various spring bulbs. It just never occurred to me to force a fruit tree branch – Probably because I wasn’t pruning dozens of trees at a time as I do now.

But starting a few years ago, I began forcing some of the cuttings from the winter pruning of our heirloom orchard in Northern California.

In fact, I fill my suitcase to the brim with cuttings to force when I get home every time.

It is incredibly easy and in this post, I tell you how.

How to Force Branches - LivingHomegrown.com

How It Works:

Now, to be clear: I am not suggesting you cut off perfectly good fruit buds of your trees in order to have a flower bouquet. But rather, you gather the bud branches that you may have been forced to cut off during pruning (to shape the tree or open it up to light, etc.) and repurpose them from trash to a floral display.

The idea is simple.

You trick the tree branch cutting into believing it is already spring. And you do this by bringing it indoors to the warmer temperatures of the house.

What trees work best?

Just about any fruit tree can be forced. Some trees just move a little faster into bloom than others. Some of the easiest to force are plum, apple, pear, quince and peach.

Fruit Buds:

No matter what fruit tree you are working with, you must use branches that have a sufficient number of flower buds on them rather than just leaf buds.

 

Fruit buds and leaf buds have a different appearance on the branch.

In general the fruit buds (or spurs) are plump and rounded.

Leaf buds are flatter to the branch and usually have a more pointed tip.

Some trees make fruit on new growth, some on old growth. So you will need to determine the fruit buds on your particular tree.

Here is a shot of two apple branches to show the difference. Once you see the difference on your particular fruit, you can easily tell them apart.

How to force branches - LivingHomegrown.com

Steps To Forcing:

  1. Choose branches with as many fruit buds as possible.
  2. Give each branch a fresh cut at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Remove any twigs from the bottom few inches. (These would be below the water line.)
  4. For branches thicker than a pencil, hammer the ends a bit to allow for more water intake.
  5. If possible, give the branches a soak in a bathtub for a few hours filled with a few inches of lukewarm water. By soaking the entire branch as they come into the warmer house, they rehydrate without going into shock.
  6. Place the branches in a vase of water, with the ends submerged about 3-4 inches. How To Force Branches - LivingHomegrown.com
  7. Keep the branches away from heater vents or direct sunlight while you wait for the buds to swell open. Sources will tell you to place the branches in a dark corner, a closet, garage or basement during this stage and that is fine. But really any room will work as long as the branches are not placed in front of a bright sunny window.
  8. Every few days, check the water level (especially the first 48 hours). And replace the water at least once per week to prevent bacteria build up.
  9. Once the buds start to open, place the vase where you will enjoy it every day. For us, that is the kitchen table.

How to force fruit tree branches - LivingHomegrown.com

Timing:

It will take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the buds to open to flowers. The timing depends upon the fruit variety, the warmth of the room and the development of the buds at the time they were clipped.

The warmer the room, the faster the forcing will occur. A 60-degree room is ideal. But if the room is warmer, the branches will just open very quickly and may not last as long on the branch.

Have you ever forced something into flower?

If so, what?

(Tell me in the comments)

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.

19 Comments:

  • Lynn says:

    Hi Theresa, I love this post; thank you. I am an avid tree-branch-forcer. It’s a necessity in the Northeast if one is to make it through winter with any semblance of local color — especially this year, as nearly 100 inches of snow mounds have interrupted what little light we have.

    I have a question about one of your statements, however. Why do you say “Now, to be clear: I am not suggesting you cut off perfectly good fruit buds of your trees in order to have a flower bouquet.” I do realize there are appropriate times to prune, especially fruit trees, but I’m also crazy about using branches with fruit in arrangements and as tablescapes. Is this wrong — even if I judiciously prune? Am I harming the tree by using fruiting branches throughout the year?

    Thanks for your input on this; the last thing I want to do is harm a tree to satisfy my aesthetic.

    Lynn

    • theresa says:

      Hi Lynn,

      So glad you asked.

      What I meant was that I am not suggesting you go prune (willy-nilly) just to have flowers without considering the loss of fruit in the process. Since I can/preserve most of the fruit from my trees, I always find it painful to snip a branch loaded with fruit buds. Ha ha. But when winter pruning, you sometimes just have to cut off some potential fruit for the overall good of the tree. And forcing is a good alternative use for that loaded branch.

      In your case, the key word is “judiciously”.

      It is perfectly fine to make judicious cuts throughout the year on your fruit trees. No worries there. And you are correct – a branch with fruit is lovely in a tablescape! Thanks for asking for clarification. If you are wondering – so are others.

      ~Theresa

  • Sara says:

    I forced branches from my quince a couple of years ago. While growing naturally, the blooms are bright, bright pink, but when forced they were nearly white. Any idea why? They were still pretty, just not what I was expecting.

    • theresa says:

      That is so interesting Sara. I do not know why. I have not noticed that before so I don’t know if it is something with that particular fruit or something universal. Maybe someone else will know here in the comments…

  • Chris says:

    I’ve been forcing forsythia for years. It helps us cope with the long New England winters. Last year I tried forcing an ornamental cherry, but I did not select carefully for flower buds. This post has inspired me to try again and hopefully obtain more flowers and less leaves. We need some color with 40″ of snow and wind chill readings below zero at mid-day.

  • Renee Mustard says:

    I really love this idea! Thanks for the tip Theresa!

  • Colleen says:

    Hi,
    Thanks so much for giving this info. I only wish I had it several weeks ago when I heavily pruned my peach tree for the first time. My tree had grown substantially this year and it required many branches to be cut. It was very hard for me to see all the “wasted” fruit possibilities, though knowing it had to be done to benefit the health of the tree. It would have “hurt” less if I had known I could turn these into “bouquets” to enjoy. I will put this post in my Garden Book to reference next year.
    I too live in SoCal and I love getting your posts with info pertinent to this area. Thank you.

  • Brenda Bailey says:

    Hi Theresa. After reading your post I cut a couple of budding branches from my pear tree and stuck them in a vase to experiment. They are blooming beautifully. So nice to have a touch of spring during our crazy week of snow and ice here in Ft Worth Texas! Thanks so much.

  • Linda says:

    Hi Theresa,
    I just found your blog. My question isn’t really about forcing the branches but more on what branches to cut for the good of the tree. We have a few young fruit trees but never sure how to prune them. Do you have a post about that?

  • growingequality says:

    thanks for your blog, lots of helpful info.
    My comment isn’t about forcing. I’ve been looking into heritage fruit trees and resources for them, and found out that we can perpetuate heritage cultivars by just grafting scions [or buds] from prunings onto rootstocks, and was wondering if you [or followers of your blog] might offer up cuttings to those interested in doing that? Cuttungs just need to be wrapped in moist paper towel, zipbagged and refrigerated. UC Davis has a repository that does this.
    Second comment is on learning to prune: Google ‘how to prune __[fill in your plant/tree] and anything w/ extension .edu is a good source. UC Davis and Cornell U have extensive Ag/Hort websites with XLNT info.
    Thanks again 4 sharing your knowledge.

    • theresa says:

      Hi there – Thanks for all your helpful comments on various posts. Very nice of you.

      I’m not able to send cuttings, but I hope that one of the other readers can. 🙂

  • Dee says:

    Thanks again for all the great tips. This one sure makes it far less ‘painful’ to prune my baby trees! Here’s a long shot, I was wondering if you or others in the community might know of any good resources, nurseries that sell fruit tree rootstock? hoping to propagate some cuttings this fall

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