Sometimes in the midst of winter—with a little help from our Conservatory—spring arrives a bit ahead of schedule.
“Gardeners have been forcing blooms for centuries,” said Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture, “and the practice became especially popular in the 19th century. As many wealthy Victorians added conservatories to their homes, they could enjoy the look and the scent of delicate bulbs even in the coldest months of winter.”
According to our archives, in February 1908, Chauncey Beadle, Biltmore’s Garden Superintendent, wrote to Storrs & Harrison Nursery of Ohio ordering fruit stock of cherries and apricots “for placing in tubs in preparation for forcing later on in the greenhouse.” This effort would have enabled the Vanderbilts and house guests to enjoy a hint of spring before it actually came.
The Conservatory is Parker’s favorite garden in the winter, and she enjoys the beauty and the cozy warmth it provides to complement the year-round lush greenery and tropical foliage of palms, ferns, and other warm climate exotics.
“Along with the orchids and other beautiful plants in the Conservatory this time of year, we add containers of spring bulbs that have been forced to bloom. Look for containers of daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips during this period,” Parker said. “We’ll rotate them every couple of weeks until mid-April.”
Branching Out For Spring
For a more informal look, consider forcing flowering spring branches—here are some easy tips to help you “branch out” on your schedule rather than waiting for Mother Nature to do it for you!
For a springscape arrangement, choose early bloomers like crabapple, forsythia, and spiraea branches for forcing. Just remember that the forcing process can take anywhere from one to eight weeks, so the closer branches are cut to their natural blooming time, the quicker they will bloom. With a little extra effort and planning, you’ll have all the beautiful blooms you need to brighten any room or make any occasion more special.
Sharp cutting/pruning shears
Access to flowering shrubs
A warm, humid space (bathroom, kitchen, sunroom, etc.)
5-gallon bucket or other large container
Decorative Biltmore tin planter or container
Gather branches on a day when temperatures are above freezing, or on a warm, rainy day.
Cut branches 1–3 feet long on a slant with sharp shears. Always keep the shape of the tree or shrub in mind as you are pruning.
Immediately place twigs in a bucket with tepid water (remove all buds from the part of the stem that will be under water) and keep in warm, humid room.
Re-cut the stems and change the water every few days. Spray stems with water if humidity in room is low.
The easiest branches to force are those that are early season bloomers: Almond, Apple, Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, Crabapple, Daphne, Forsythia, Pear, Plum Pussywillow, Quince, Spiraea, Winter Honeysuckle, Winter Jasmine, Wisteria, Witch Hazel
Branches bearing larger flowers like Deciduous Magnolias, Dogwood, Japanese Maple, and Mock Orange should be left on the shrub until their buds are large and well-developed.