Finding a suitable container
Select a suitable container and half-fill it with water or a floral preservative solution (see recipe below), which will retard bacterial growth that can cause buds to drop or fail to open. Arrange the branches in the container at this stage-when the buds are still tight and undeveloped-rather than when the delicate flowers are opening and easily knocked off. Change the water or floral preservative two or three times a week.
To mimic the spring conditions in which the branches will bloom, keep them in a cool location, away from hot-air vents. The ideal temperature is about 18 to 21°C during the day, with a 10-degree drop at night (move the vase to a cooler part of the house, if possible). Mist the branches daily. The warmer the air temperature, the faster the buds will swell and develop, but accelerating the process too quickly risks drying them out. Drape a thin plastic cover (such as a dry-cleaning bag) over the branches for a few days at any stage to accelerate their development and keep humidity high. While the buds are swelling, keep the branches in a bright location but out of direct sunlight. When the buds start to open and petals peek out, allow some direct sunlight to fall on the branches if possible; light is crucial to pigment formation in petals (in low light, the flowers may not be as richly coloured as those formed outdoors).
The buds of soft pussy willow catkins and forsythia are quick to swell and produce wonderful effects in a week or two, while other shrubs such as flowering dogwood and mock orange take three to five weeks to come into flower, but the wait is well worth it.
Floral preservation recipe
2 tbsp. (30 mL) white vinegar
2 tbsp. (30 mL) white sugar
1⁄2 tsp. (2 mL) household chlorine bleach
Mix with 4 cups (1 L) water