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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.