Forsythias are deciduous flowering shrubs known for their long branches that fill with brilliant yellow blooms early in spring. Bees and butterflies love them, and they provide a cheerful-looking backdrop, border or centerpiece for any yard.
Forsythia belongs to the olive family and grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 8.
- Botanical name: Forsythia x intermedia
- Common name: Forsythia, golden bells
- Plant type: Shrub or bush
- Mature size: 6 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 5 inches wide
- Sun exposure: Full sun
- Soil type: Well-drained
- Soil pH: Acidic to alkaline
- Bloom time: Spring
- Flower color: Yellow
- Hardiness zones: 5 through 8
- Native area: Far East
How to Grow Forsythia
Forsythia flowers precede their leaves, which means that you get a really good look at the blooms because there are no leaves to block your view of them. They are fast-growing shrubs with an upright and arching form.
One knock against this shrub is that it is a one-hit wonder, providing great color while in bloom in early spring but little else for the rest of the year. Admittedly, most gardeners would not grow it for its leaves alone, as there is nothing remarkable about their shape or color. Nor are they known for their fall color, although forsythias will sometimes surprise you with nice purplish leaves in autumn.
Forsythia plants grow best in full sun. Try to place your forsythia in an area that gets at least six hours of direct sun daily. If it's less than this, you may notice the plant doesn't produce as many flowers.
Forsythia prefers well-drained soil. But these tough plants show some tolerance of clay soils, too.
Water new transplants well to get them established, then water occasionally but don't overwater.
Temperature and Humidity
Forsythia do best in slightly humid climates; if it's too dry, they may not flower, if it's too moist, they may wilt. They're happiest when the temperature is between 55 and 70 degrees, but are fairly hardy in colder temperatures.
Don't use fertilizer until your forsythia is about a year old and appears healthy. Spread about a cup of granular fertilizer at the shrub's base every few weeks in the spring and summer.
Varieties to Grow
The Sunrise cultivar (Forsythia x intermedia 'Sunrise') is more compact than many forsythia shrubs, growing 4 to 6 feet tall with a spread of 3 to 5 feet. By contrast, Forsythia x intermedia 'Meadowlark' grows 8 to 10 feet tall. In between is Forsythia x intermedia 'Northern Gold', at 6 to 8 feet tall. Even more compact than 'Sunrise' is 'Courtasol' (Gold Tide) at 1 to 2 feet in height, with a spread of 1 to 4 feet.
If you wish to propagate more plants, you can simply cut the branch that rooted, dig up the offspring by the roots, and transplant it wherever you wish. Or, you can simply leave it alone if you want to expand the mother plant.
If left to their own devices, forsythia plants take on a rather wild-looking shape, as branches shoot out this way and that. Most people prefer this wild look, pruning forsythia bushes only sparingly. But if you prefer a neater look, you can prune the bushes to conform to a more regular shape.
Even if you do not prune your shrub regularly, you may wish to keep an eye on its spread. When a branch makes contact with the soil, it often puts down roots on the spot, creating a new shrub. You can look at this offspring of the original shrub as either a bonus or an intruder, depending on your perspective.
Pruning of forsythia bushes is best done just after they have finished putting on their flower display in spring because they bloom on the prior year's growth. If you prune them either too late or too early, you could lose flower buds and end up with a poor display.
Begin by pruning 1/4 to 1/3 of the oldest branches, cutting them right down to the ground. This will encourage new growth and a more compact form. Beyond this "renewal" pruning, you can also selectively cut newer branches to improve upon the overall shape of your forsythia plants.
Keep in mind that annual pruning is by no means mandatory. If you are happy with your forsythia shrubs as they are, you may wish to go several years between prunings. Note also that there is an additional incentive for pruning forsythia shrubs just after their spring blooms start to fade, beyond wishing not to interrupt their blooming cycle.
Uses in Landscape Design
Border forsythias, as the name suggests, are often used to define property boundaries. They can be grown along a fence (to dress it up), or they can be planted to form a border all on their own.
These beautiful flowering shrubs are also often used as a "living wall" privacy fence for summer and fall after they have fully leafed out. In addition, they can be used as specimens for spring, for erosion control on slopes, and in foundation plantings. The weeping type (F. suspensa) can be trained to grow as a vine on a trellis or planted behind a retaining wall and allowed to cascade over the side.
For a more novel use of this plant, you can force forsythia by cutting branches and bringing them indoors in late winter. Like forcing pussy willows, this is a great way for the impatient to gain an early taste of springtime.