How to Plant and Care for Forsythia

By Tema Flanagan

Forsythia is a fast-growing deciduous shrub best known for its distinctive yellow flowersand their exceptionally early bloom time. Just when it seems the gray days of winter will never end, forsythia announces the coming of spring with a showy display of bright yellow blossoms on arched branches.

According to folklore, the appearance of forsythia flowers is a sign of spring, but only after three more snowfalls. Indeed, depending on your region’s climate, you may be treated to the sight of flowers surrounded by a blanket of snow.

Forsythia basics

A member of the olive family, forsythia is native to Asia and Eastern Europe. The plant has long been prized in China, where its inconspicuous fruit is considered a very important component of traditional herbal medicine.

Given its native surroundings, forsythia prefers a temperate climate, thriving in USDA plant hardiness zones 58, but will adapt to its surroundings. If given plenty of sunlight, forsythia’s low-maintenance needs and drought tolerance will enable it to thriveeven in poor quality soil.

Forsythia’s surfeit of yellow flowers, which have earned it the common name “golden bells,” blossom each year in early spring, before the shrub produces leaves. After the flowers bloom, the plant sets lush foliage that retains its bright green color through the heat of summer, turning shades of pale yellow to deep maroon in the fall.

Forsythia shrubs grow very quicklyup to two feet annuallymaking them especially helpful in landscaping new construction or creating a much-needed natural privacy hedge. At peak maturity, forsythia averages 8–10 feet high, making it an excellent addition for garden backdrops, landscaping schemes, and hedgerows.

Forsythia varieties

There are three varieties of forsythia shrubs:

  1. Forsythia suspensaSometimes called weeping forsythia, this variety is an upright, deciduous shrub known for its weeping habitIts branches can be trained to climb a trellis or arbor. F. suspensa varieties tend to spread more quickly than others as the weeping branches take root upon contact with the ground.
  2. Forsythia viridissima—Sometimes called green-stem forsythia, this variety is smaller than other varieties, with stiff, upright branches. Some F. viridissima plants are compact enough to be used as a ground cover.
  3. Forsythia x intermedia—The most common type of forsythia bush, you’ll likely encounter this plant at your local nursery. F. x intermedia is a cross between F. suspensa and F. viridissima. It averages 10 feet tall and has gracefully arched branches.

There are several interesting varieties also worth noting:

  • Lynwood Gold can grow nearly 10 feet tall and wide, making it a good selection for hedges.
  • At just two feet tall and four feet wide, Gold Tide “Courtasol” is a dwarf variety and an excellent option for ground cover.
  • Show Off is a compact variety bred for especially dense flowers. With a mature height of five to six feet, these forsythias rarely get unruly enough to require pruning.

How to plant forsythia

Forsythia can be grown from cuttings, or purchased from your local nursery. While it’s best to plant forsythia during its dormant season—in the fall or winter—local nurseries typically carry them in the early spring, during the plant’s blooming window. Either way is fineforsythia is very forgiving.

Follow these steps to plant forsythia shrubs:

  1. Select a location with full sun and, ideally, well-drained soil.
  2. Check the mature height and spread of your chosen forsythia variety and make sure that you have enough space (including vertical space) for your particular bush.
  3. Dig a hole that is just large enough to accommodate your forsythia plant’s root ball.
  4. Place the plant in the prepared hole, ensuring that the top of the ball is level with the ground surrounding the hole.
  5. Refill the hole with soil and tamp it down around the root ball.
  6. Water the shrub regularly until it is established.
  7. To create a hedge, plant forsythia shrubs 46 feet apart.
  8. Mulch your shrub to keep weeds at bay and retain moisture (optional).

How to care for forsythia

  • Once your forsythia bush is well established, water only as needed during hot, dry seasons.
  • Forsythia’s flowers bloom on new growth only, so take the time to cut back old growth in late spring after the flowers have bloomed. Avoid pruning your forsythia plant until it is at least a year old.
  • Avoid pruning in the late summer and fall or your plant won’t flower well the following spring.
  • Prune your forsythia shrubs aggressively every three or four years to reinvigorate your plants and encourage fresh growth.
  • Branches that touch the ground will often take root, causing forsythia to spread over time. To prevent spreading, cut back low lying branches and dig up and prune those that have already rooted.

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