White forsythia, also known as false forsythia, is not as well-known as the ubiquitous yellow forsythia. Whilst yellow forsythia is a very common sight in gardens, false forsythia is much more unusual.
False forsythias, like yellow forsythias, are deciduous shrubs and both are members of the Olive family, but they are not in the same genus. False forsythia isn’t a forsythia at all! This shrub is of the Abeliophyllum genus.
False forsythia shrubs provide spring blooming and are low-maintenance and showy. They grow in an elegant, arching form and sport white flowers that are tinged with pinky-purple.
The flowers appear on the branches before the leaves and are scented. Abeliophyllum distichum often comes into flower before the yellow forsythia.
Native to Korea, and for this reason, false forsythia is also known as the Korean Abelialeaf. In Korea, this is an endangered species.
This perennial is grown as an ornamental plant for its white flowers during the Spring and attractive leaves during the Summer.
The name Abeliophyllum comes from the British surgeon and naturalist from the late 18th century, Clarke Abel. “Phyllum” translates from the Latin, for leaf. The species name distichum also translates from Latin and refers to the shape and form of the leaves.
This shrub was first listed in 1919 in the Botanist Magazine of Tokyo.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Abeliophyllum distichum was identified as being close to extinction. However, it is only officially listed as “endangered” and not as a “critically endangered” species.
|White forsythia, false forsythia, Korean Abelialeaf
|1.5 m to 2 m
|1.5 m to 2 m
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone
|Zones 5 to 8
|White, tinged with pink
|Plant specific features
|Flowers slightlly fragrant
How to Plant and Grow a False Forsythia Bush
Where to Plant
The false forsythia shrub looks untidy and leggy when newly planted. But, once the flowers have finished, you can tidy them up by pruning lightly. This makes the Abeliophyllum distichum look more compact, become denser, and will encourage more flowers the following year.
Because the false forsythia doesn’t grow tall, it makes a good shrub to plant in front of taller shrubs or perennials. Planted in front of evergreens will show off the white spring blooms really well.
Once mature, the false forsythia will attain a height and spread of no more than 5 feet (1.52 m).
Plant the shrub in a sheltered, east or south-facing position if possible, for the best results.
If you are planting multiple false forsythia shrubs, then they should be spaced around 3 feet apart to allow for growth. When used in this way, the Abeliophyllum distichum can make a good border with very early flowers.
You can combine this shrub with some very early, Spring flowering bulbs to increase the floral display.
False forsythia can be grown in pots or containers and looks good as a patio plant in a Mediterranean garden. It also does well when grown against a wall or fence.
When to Plant
Although it’s lovely to have very early flowers, the flower buds can be damaged by strong frost. It’s safer to plant somewhere that won’t receive too much warmth and shelter during the late winter.
This will mean that the false forsythia won’t come into bloom too early and suffer from a sudden, severe frost.
False Forsythia Shrubs Care and Maintenance
A. distichum likes to be planted in well-draining soil. For preference, choose a site with alkaline soil but if this is not available, then the false forsythia will still thrive. False forsythia is adaptable to many growing conditions, provided the soil is well-drained.
A newly planted Abeliophyllum needs to be kept moist to enable the shrub to establish a strong and profound network of roots. This will allow it to absorb water and nutrients from deep within the ground, and it will be better equipped to survive dry spells.
Young shrubs should be watered whenever the soil becomes dry to the touch; don’t allow the soil around the roots to dry out. Mature false forsythias will only require watering during hot Summer periods.
However, for the best flowers, regular watering will keep the false forsythia at its most vigorous. Similarly, flowering will be poor if the shrub is deprived of water for extended periods.
During the Summer, a false forsythia will benefit from additional feeding. Select a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, and water it in monthly during the Summer months.
Alternatively, you can use a balanced, slow-release granular product applied at the beginning of the Summer.
Most importantly, never fertilize the Abeliophyllum distichum after the end of the Summer. Feeding the shrub late in the growing season will result in new, soft growth.
These tender shoots may not have enough time to toughen up sufficiently to be able to survive late winter frosts.
The false forsythia is an adaptable shrub and will tolerate dappled shade. However, for the best flowers and the most vigorously growing shrub, choose a site in full sun. Ideally, choose a sheltered spot, that is either east or south facing.
The more sunlight that the false forsythia can access, the more flowers will be produced.
Pruning and Repotting
It’s necessary to prune a newly planted false forsythia, once it has finished flowering. This will encourage more flowers the following year and also help to tidy up the overall appearance of the plant.
Never prune more than one-third, and always cut the branches above a leaf node.
Pruning in this way should take place annually until the false forsythia is established in the garden. After this, annual pruning can be a little more severe, and you can cut one or two of the stems back to the ground.
False forsythia flowers on old wood. This means that pruning needs to be carried out as soon as the flowering has finished. This will give the shrub plenty of time to develop new growth, which will form the following season’s flower buds.
If you leave the pruning until late in the Autumn, then you risk cutting off the flower buds.
Controlling the growth of the false forsythia will keep the plant healthy, by improving air circulation through the shrub’s branches. A healthy plant, pruned regularly and at the right time, will produce more flowers.
It is very easy to propagate false forsythia. Often, you will find that there are low-growing branches that can be pegged down into the soil. These will grow small roots where they come into contact with the ground, and once rooted, can be cut off the parent plant.
Layering branches in this way is probably the easiest way to multiply your false forsythia shrubs, but it is also possible to propagate them by taking cuttings.
You can take cuttings early in the Summer, and these are known as softwood cuttings. The new season’s growth will still be “soft” and not have become woody. Cuttings should root easily at this time of year, provided you keep them well-moistened in their pots until roots have formed.
Alternatively, take cuttings later in the year, once the wood has toughened up a little. These are known as hardwood cuttings. Cuttings taken later in the Summer will need to be kept sheltered and protected during the winter.
Pests and diseases
Grubs and certain moth species’ larvae may damage the foliage of the false forsythia. Caterpillars from certain butterfly species may also forage on the leaves.
If planted in wet soil, or if the false forsythia is overwatered, then it may suffer from fungal disease and in particular its roots may rot. This will kill the shrub.
So make sure that the soil is free-draining, and that it dries out between watering. Keeping the center of the shrub clean from damaged and dead wood will also improve the airflow and reduce the likelihood of fungal attacks.
Generally, and providing it is given adequate growing conditions, the false forsythia is not a shrub that suffers unduly from pest or disease.
Temperature and Humidity
A false forsythia is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9. In the coldest of these zones, it is a good idea to place mulch around the shrub’s roots at the beginning of the winter.
This will help to protect the shrub from the effects of extreme cold. A mulch also serves to retain moisture in the soil, so can be beneficial even in warmer zones.
Other Uses for False Forsythia
False forsythia has similar properties to witch hazel and has been overly harvested for the medicinal trade in Asia. This has led to its serious decline in the wild and led to it being included in the official list of endangered species.
However, there is little threat of the shrub’s forthcoming extinction due to it being commonly cultivated and grown as an ornamental, garden plant.
The branches of the false forsythia, like those of witch hazel, were also used as divining rods, to identify springs and other potential sources of underground water.
Types of False Forsythia You Can Grow
False forsythia varieties predominantly have white flowers. Varieties that bloom all pink and others that produce white flowers with pink borders are also available.
Abeliophyllum distichum “Roseum” is a variety of false forsythia that bears pink flowers early in the season. The flowers appear before the leaves and contrast well against the shrub’s bare branches.
This slow-growing shrub will take over 10 years to reach its mature size of no more than 8 feet (2.44 m), so it’s perfect where space is limited.
Everyone knows the yellow forsythia that turns gardens into a flowering yellow mass at the beginning of Spring – but why not try the white or pink abeliophyllum instead? The false forsythia will reward you with even earlier flowers!
*image by frantic00/depositphotos