Winter Bloom Forcing: Tips On Forcing Shrubs To Bloom In Winter

Pussy willow at a window.
Image by mzh29

By Jackie Carroll

If gloomy winter days have you down, why not brighten your days by forcing flowering shrub branches into bloom. As with forced bulbs, forced branches bloom just when we need their bright colors the most – usually mid- to late winter. This is an easy project that doesn’t require any special skills, and watching the blossoms open is fascinating. All you need for forcing flowering shrubs is hand pruners or a sharp knife and a container of water, so let’s get started.

Forcing Shrubs to Bloom in Winter

The first step to force branches during winter is collecting the stems. Choose branches with fat buds that indicate the shrub has broken dormancy. The branches will bloom no matter where you make the cuts, but you can help the shrub along by use good pruning practices when you cut them. This means selecting branches from crowded parts of the shrub, and making the cuts about one-quarter inch above a side branch or bud.


Cut the branches 2 to 3 feet long and take a few more than you need because there are usually a few that refuse to cooperate with winter bloom forcing. Once you get them indoors, you can trim them to suit your container and arrangement.

After trimming the stems to the desired length, prepare the cut ends by crushing them with a hammer or making a 1-inch vertical slit at the bottom of the branch with a sharp knife. This makes it easier for the stems to absorb water.

Place the branches in a vase of water and set them in a cool, dimly-lit location. Change the water every day or two to prevent bacteria from clogging up the stems. When the buds begin to swell and open, move them into bright, indirect light. The blossoms will continue to bloom for two to five weeks, depending on the type of shrub.

Floral preservatives will help prevent the growth of bacteria, which prevent the uptake of water. You can purchase a floral preservative or use one of these recipes:

  • 2 cups of lemon-lime soda
  • ½ teaspoon of chlorine bleach
  • 2 cups of water


  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon of chlorine bleach
  • 1 quart of water

Shrubs for Winter Bloom Forcing

Here is a list of shrubs and small trees that work well for winter forcing:

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