That wonderful burst of color that delights gardeners as spring nudges its way in is often in the form of Forsythia, one of the first shrubs to beautifully bloom. In fact, there can still be a layer of snow on the ground when the stunning yellow flowers start to bloom. Forsythia is much-loved thanks to its versatility, happily taking center stage as a single focal point or contentedly being set as hedging or foundation planting.
This shrub can thrive in many conditions and the majority of regions allow for it to grow well. For northern climates, it is best to use hardier varieties since the flower buds can be damaged if the temperatures plummet too much. For urban lots or restricted spaces, the newer cultivars have been specifically bred for compact stature and also host interesting foliage and coloured stems that provide an aspect of interest within any landscape.
THE BASICS OF FORSYTHIA
Zones: 3 to 9
Height and Spread: Upright and arching with a height of 1 to 20 feet and width of 3 to 10 feet.
Exposure: Full to partial sun but blooms will be better in full sun.
Bloom time: Early to mid Spring
Colour and characteristics: Normally grown for the yellow blooms in early spring which grow along the branch lengths before the foliage makes its appearance. The leaves are green or can also be variegated, they have a serrated edge with a point. Fall foliage may take on a tinge of yellow, purple, or red, although it is not a significant aspect of the shrub.
Toxicity: Forsythia is not toxic to cats or dogs (Read about more plants that are non-toxic to cats and dogs).
HOW TO PLANT FORSYTHIA
When should Forsythia be planted: It is important to avoid stress caused by heat or cold, hence planting should take place either in spring or fall when the climate is milder.
Where should Forsythia be planted: The location should be sunny, if there is shade it needs to be light shade only, the soil should be fertile, well-draining, and with the ability to retain even moisture.
How should Forsythia be planted: The soil should first be loosened and then compost needs to be worked in. Next, carefully take the plant out of the container, the roots will need to be teased out or if the plant is pot bound then slice the root ball in various places. Now, prepare the hole by digging it twice as large as the root ball, it needs to be at a depth where the top of the root ball is a little above or is level with the soil surface; don’t plant it too deeply. Now back fill the hole and use gentle pressure to press down on the soil at the base before watering well.
Spacing: This will be determined by the variety, however, make sure that there is enough air circulation so that the plants will remain healthy.
HOW TO CARE FOR AND PRUNE FORSYTHIA
How to prune Forsythia: These shrubs grow quickly and need to be pruned regularly if they are to remain appealing in the garden. It is best to prune them so that they keep their natural arching shape.
Since the Forsythia flowers bloom on old wood it is important to prune them once they have flowered to ensure a full bloom the following year.
Annually: Once the shrub has finished flowering, remove all dead branches using loppers and shape if required.
Bi-annually or every 3 years: Thin out the old stems by a quarter or third making sure that you cut back so that they are close to the ground, this will open the plant center again and allow for better air circulation. Do this prior to the plant breaking dormancy in late winter.
If you trim back to part of the way down only, new branching will occur right below the cut, this will result in dense foliage and flowers that only bloom at the tips.
If they are pruned into a hedge there is a high risk that flowers will be lost and a dense growth habit will form, there is also more risk of fungal disease.
If the plant has become overgrown it can be lopped until just a few inches from the ground, this shod rejuvenate the plant well.
The Soil: Forsythias are very tolerant and can grow in a wide variety of soil types, however, their preference is for well-draining soil that has rich organic matter added. The best pH range is between 6.8 and 7.7.
Fertilizers and amendments: If the soil has been amended and maintained there will be little need for additional fertilizer. A slow-release choice can be used in early spring if desired, choosing one that is for trees and shrubs. Use organic matter to mulch an inch or two to keep weeds away and maintain even moisture.
Pests and diseases: If the conditions are optimal, Forsythia will present with few problems or none at all. Fungal diseases which may occur include leaf spot, yellow leaves, and anthracnose. Japanese weevil and aphids are the typical pests, as well as nematodes. By keeping the surrounding area clean it is possible to prevent such issues, as well as keeping overhead watering to a minimum.
Deer Resistance: Usually, deer will not bother Forsythia, however, when conditions are extreme deer can graze on plants that they do not normally have a preference for. More deer-resistant plants can be found here.
IDEAS FOR DESIGN
Forsythia can be added to the landscape in many different ways. Here are some ideas:
Let the green foliage act as a backdrop to colourful plants by setting them in the back or middle of a mixed border.
Use for privacy purposes by planting as a hedge along a property line
Use along with shrubs such as azalea and Bluebeard to plant around the foundation of your home to create a landscape that will bloom throughout the seasons.
Create a woodland border and add bulbs such as crocus and narcissus that will all bloom together.
Use as erosion control by planting in mass for ground cover along a slope.
HOW TO MAKE THE BRANCHES BLOOM
Even when they are in the bud stage, they can be cut and brought indoors. This is how you will create a great winter bouquet:
Opt for branches that boast plump buds and are between 2 and 4 weeks from blooming
Cut the branches at a 45-degree angle and ensure the length is at least 12 to 18 inches.
Trim all lower buds and shoots that would be below the water level
Use lukewarm water in the vase and choose a bright location
Prevent bacteria growth by changing the water every few days
Have patience; the flowers may not open for a few weeks.