How to force any woody branch in water, whether it is flower or foliage:
Woody stems need some help to bloom beautifully. Cut the branches during the warmest part of the day. Mash — really beat the stems to a pulp — the bottom 2- to 3-inch ends of the stems with a hammer or rolling pin to allow better water absorption. Place the branch in a bucket of warm water immediately after mashing. If you have room, soak the entire branch in lukewarm water for a few hours (the bathtub is a perfect place). Total submersion will allow branches to take up maximum amounts of water.
Q: How long will it take a branch to bloom? My daughter is getting married, and I want to use these flowers on tables — it’s certainly a lot cheaper than bought flowers.
A: That depends on how close it is to its normal blooming time outdoors. As the spring season gets later, the blooms come out more quickly. You could have flowers on forsythia in as little as a few days, but magnolia or lilac might take a month or more to force into bloom.
Keep the humidity high by misting daily. Your aim is to make the branches think it’s a cool, misty, rainy spring day on the North Shore. Leaves and buds will dry out if the humidity level is too low. Florists often wrap branches in damp newspaper paper to counteract dryness during the first days of the forcing process, especially with the later-blooming flowers.
Keep the branches in a pail of water in a cool, but very bright spot — an unheated porch or hallway might be a good place. No sun is necessary, just very bright light. Change the water in the container every few days, if possible. Branches are thirsty — watch the water level and replace it as it is used. Allow plenty of time for the flowers to develop when forcing.