The sunny harbinger of spring: forsythia

By Lynette L. Walther | May 04, 2018
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Left to grow naturally into its arching form, a forsythia heralds spring with sprays of golden blooms.

In the Victorian language of the flowers, forsythia translates to anticipation. That expectation of spring is aptly mirrored in forsythias, which bloom extravagantly and early, providing a ray of sunshine when it is needed most. Folklore says: "Three snows after the forsythia bloom,” and we’ll have to wait to see if that holds true. This could be the year that provides proof of that mythology. But in the meantime, we welcome the brilliant yellow blooms exemplifying gentle, effervescent energy, announcing the arrival of spring.

According to Wikipedia, forsythia is a genus of flowering plants in the olive family Oleaceae and is related to olives, lilacs and ash. There are about 11 species, mostly native to eastern Asia, with one native to southeastern Europe. The genus of these deciduous shrubs is named after William Forsyth. In Chinese medicine, forsythia (lian qiao) is used to clear heat, soothe inflammation and calm the skin. Forsythia was first grown in this country in the mid-1800s, and is deer-resistant.

From Gardening Know How website, we learn that while forsythia is quite shade-tolerant, these shrubs bloom best in full sun, with good drainage and the equivalent of about two inches of water per week. A balanced fertilizer applied every two to three months in the spring and summer promotes growth and next year’s blooms as well. But hold off on fertilizer starting in the fall and through the winter months.

Forsythias have a natural arching growth pattern, though they can be pruned to form hedges. Pruning also contributes to the care of these shrubs, which grow rapidly. Without pruning, forsythia can quickly become overgrown. The best time for trimming is in the spring after the blooms fade. Forsythia sets its flower buds soon after new growth appears. Pruning forsythia in late summer or fall can reduce the number of flowers the following spring, since these shrubs bloom on old wood. Pruning forsythia is essential to control this growth.

For a mature forsythia shrub, cut at least a fourth to a third of the oldest, thickest branches close to the ground. For the very oldest and most overgrown forsythia, pruning should be brutal, cropping the entire shrub to about four inches from the ground. Within two years, you’ll have a new shrub. Many forsythia varieties will root easily from cuttings, either layered in the ground (lay a branch on the ground and cover with soil) or in water.

Younger forsythia shrubs are easier to maintain with regular care, and trimming a forsythia while it is young helps control its shape and size.Take out the oldest branches to make room for new shoots and allow more light into the center of the shrub. Trimming back any straggling growth will go a long way to clean up the look of the shrub. All it takes is a few minutes each spring on forsythia pruning. Newer varieties feature dwarf and miniature forsythias like Sugar Baby and Starlet that can greatly reduce pruning chores, making them perfect for small spaces and mixing with spring-flowering bulb displays. Don’t forget, forsythia makes a good cut flower to enjoy and bring a touch of spring indoors.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Pruning Forsythia – Tips For Trimming Forsythia Bushes gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/shrubs/forsythia/forsythia-pruning.htm.

Sugar Baby forsythia features improved floral display and miniature growth habit. (Source: Proven Winners)
Starlet forsythia is good for the small garden, featuring a dwarf growth habit, great to mix with spring-flowering bulb displays. (Source: Proven Winners)
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