Forsythia is a genus of shrubs that belong to the olive family, with several recognized species and many cultivars and hybrids that vary in size and shape.
Native to Asia, forsythia is a deciduous shrub that is commonly cultivated in gardens.
This perennial, also known as golden bells, is prized as an ornamental for its spectacular show of yellow flowers that herald the advent of Spring.
The common name, and that of the genus, is attributed to the botanist responsible for introducing the forsythia plant to Europe, and to the UK in particular.
William Forsyth is not believed to be the first botanist to classify or discover forsythia, but seems to be the first to cultivate it in open ground in Europe.
It was a Scottish plantsman Robert Fortune that first observed the forsythia growing in a garden in China and then found it growing wild in the mountains of a China province.
|Common names||Forsythia, golden bells|
|Height||2 to 10 feet (ca. 3 m)|
|Width||2 to 10 feet (ca. 3 m)|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||Zones 5 to 8|
|Plant specific features||Flowers in early Spring before the leaves appear|
How to Plant and Grow a Forsythia Bush
Where to Plant
Forsythia flowers on their branches before the appearance of the leaves. This results in a spectacular show of early Spring time flowers. So, it is advisable to plant it in a position where its bright, colorful display can be fully appreciated.
You can add a forsythia successfully in a mixed border, where it will mix in with other perennials and shrubs and provide color early in the year.
Multiple forsythia plants can be grown to produce a living fence or screen at the back of a border or in front of a wall.
This shrub is fast-growing and has elegant, arching branches that can be absolutely covered with tubular flowers. Forsythia is equally good to plant as a single, specimen shrub where you can admire its Spring display.
Choose a variety that suits the space available, as some won’t grow more than 3 feet (1 meter) tall, whilst others will reach 10 feet (3 meters) or more.
It is also possible to train some varieties of forsythia to grow up a wall, supported by a pergola or trellis. The weeping varieties are most suited to this type of growing.
Forsythia included in a woodland garden, provided it is planted in a sunny spot, makes a lovely natural addition beside a stream or amongst other woodland shrubs and trees.
In a woodland garden, you can leave the forsythia to grow wild; no pruning will be needed.
When to Plant
The best planting time is in the fall. It is easier to ensure the newly planted forsythia receives water at this time, as the ground will tend to be moist.
But you can plant very early in the Spring if you are prepared to provide considerable irrigation during the Summer.
In warmer regions, forsythia can also be planted in the winter, but not if you are in a climate that experiences frost and freezing conditions during the winter.
Generally, it is best to plant any shrub during its dormant period, and it’s always a good idea to avoid planting in extreme weather conditions as this will stress the plant.
Forsythia Shrubs Care and Maintenance
Forsythia prefers soil that is slightly acidic, with a pH value of around 6. However, it will still thrive if the soil is neutral (pH 7), but it will not like to be planted in alkaline soil.
The soil needs to be well draining, and its roots should never be left to stand in soggy soil.
Shrubs in the forsythia genus are fairly tolerant of poor soil so providing it is well draining and slightly acidic, it isn’t too important if it is not particularly rich.
Like any newly planted shrub, it is essential that when it is establishing its root system, it does not dry out. Water regularly and deeply to encourage strong and profound root growth for the first growing season.
Once established, after a couple of years, forsythia is a fairly drought-tolerant shrub.
A newly planted forsythia shouldn’t be fertilized during the first year after planting. Once it is well established in its growing conditions and provided it is healthy, then you can fertilize it from the Spring and into the early Summer.
Just make sure you don’t provide the shrub with fertilizer after mid-summer. You don’t want to be encouraging lots of lush new growth at the end of the growing season.
There is a risk that the tender, new shoots will not have time to toughen up before the onset of the cold weather.
One of the most important growing requirements for forsythia is that the shrub receives plenty of sunshine. The less sunlight it receives, the fewer flowers you can expect each Spring. Ideally, plant the forsythia where it will receive at least six hours of sunshine most days.
Pruning and Repotting
Forsythia flowers on old wood; it is therefore imperative to prune your forsythia immediately after it has finished flowering. If you delay pruning, then you jeopardize the following season’s flowers. Pruning later in the season will cut off the following year’s flower buds.
When pruning, make sure you don’t cut off more than a third of the top growth. Although you can cut a forsythia back to ground level, this isn’t a good idea if you want to see flowers the following Spring.
Start by removing any dead, diseased, or decaying wood. Branches should then be thinned out, starting at the base. Removal of lower old branches near ground level will encourage vigorous growth of other branches.
Pruning out old wood from the center of the shrub will improve the airflow through the plant. This is good practice, in order to reduce the likelihood of pests and particularly fungal diseases harming your plant’s health.
For cut flowers, even earlier than they arrive in the garden, you can force forsythia into flowers. To do this, cut off flowering branches between January and February and bring them inside to keep them in a warm place. The flower buds will usually open within two weeks.
It’s easy to propagate forsythia shrubs. The best, most successful method is to take softwood stem cuttings between the Spring and the Summer. Always use the current season’s growth.
If you delay taking your cuttings until the Summer, these become semi-ripe or semi-hardwood cuttings. These will also root well.
Pests and diseases
Forsythia is an easy plant, with low-maintenance requirements. However, it is possible that it will suffer from occasional problems, especially if its growing conditions are not met.
The most likely problems occur if the forsythia is not planted in well-drained soil. Root rot and other fungal disease can take hold and the forsythia can die.
To reduce the risk of fungal disease, plant in well-drained soil. Water regularly, but allow the plant to dry out in between watering.
Keep the base of the plant clear of dead and decaying plant material, and don’t allow any mulch to come into direct contact with the stem of the forsythia.
Temperature and Humidity
Forsythia grows well in woodland gardens because the shrub loves slightly humid conditions. Without sufficient humidity, fewer flowers will be produced, and yet it is important to get the balance right – too wet, the forsythia is likely to wilt!
Forsythia shrubs are fairly hardy and will withstand short spells of extreme cold, providing the cold doesn’t last too long. If subjected to temperatures that are too cold, then flower production will be reduced and may even be absent the following Spring.
Generally, if this happens, the forsythia will recover and return to flowering the following year.
Certain varieties are hardier than others, and these are able to withstand cold spells better.
Other Uses for Forsythia
Flowers from forsythia are edible and used in various beauty treatments and body care recipes. Forsythia was used widely in Asian medicine.
Particularly, its fruits were used to treat chest infections and maladies. Sometimes the forsythia fruit is blended with other plants.
However, unless you are in a warm climate, the forsythia flowers will not develop into fruit, so the only parts that can be used are the flowers and leaves of the shrub.
Fresh forsythia flowers can be gathered and dried over several days. Fill bottles with half-oil and half-dried flowers. Stir and heat slowly in a Bain Marie for a couple of hours.
Oil can be infused with forsythia and used for body lotion and soap products.
Forsythia wood is used to make the bows of a stringed, musical instrument in Asia, called the ajaeng. The ajaeng is a zither with 7 strings.
The bows are around 25 inches (ca. 64 cm) long, and the forsythia branch is first peeled and hardened with pine resin before being made into the bow.
Because of its early flowering period, forsythia is a great addition to a natural garden as it provides an early spring food source for insects, butterflies, and other pollinators.
Types of Forsythia You Can Grow
Many types and varieties of forsythia exist. Different shapes and sizes exist, and there are also several hybrids available. Such hybrids have characteristics from both parent plants, and certain shrubs have better cold tolerance than others.
There is a good choice of forsythia available for different growing requirements. First of all, consider whether you are looking to create a hedge, an accent plant for a mixed border, a container plant, or a stand-alone, single specimen tree.
If space is limited, or you want forsythia to include as an edging, front-or-border shrub or container plant, then a dwarf variety such as F. viridissima “Bronxensis” can be a good choice.
Its compact size results in a forsythia that will not grow more than 3 feet (0.91 m) in either direction. This low-growing variety will spread laterally, and you will create a carpet effect of brilliant yellow in Spring.
The foliage of this cultivar adds fall interest, as the leaves turn bronze.
Forsythia x intermedia “Fiesta” is another compact variety, that offers foliage interest as well as a very early flowering period. The leaves are variegated and light green and yellow. The branches are red so even in winter this plant will reward you with color!
F. x intermedia “Gold Tide” known as “Maree d’Or is a dwarf hybrid that was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Award of Garden Merit.
This is a great choice of plant for the edge of a walkway, where you will appreciate its mass of splendid lemon-yellow blooms in the Spring. Once again, this is a plant that will also reward you with colorful foliage in fall.
F. x intermedia “Lynwood Gold” is a well-known cultivar of the forsythia. It grows to around 8 feet (2.44 m) high and 10 feet (ca. 3 m) wide and grows upright with arching branches. Spectacular blossoms adorn this cultivar, and it makes an impressive stand-alone specimen tree.
Whilst almost all forsythia shrubs flower on old wood, a type of F. intermedia blossoms on both old and new wood. This is called “Magical Gold”. It flowers very early, and stays compact, reaching no more than about 3 feet (1 m) tall or wide.
“Magical Gold” flowers freely, and as well as its deep gold flowers, will also reward you in the Autumn. The foliage turns bronze, then gold, and finally purple just before the onset of Winter.
There is perhaps no better symbol of the Spring flower than the showy, yellow, bell-shaped flowers of the forsythia. Along with daffodils, the ubiquitous forsythia heralds the advent of Spring and will bring cheerfulness into your garden.
Easy to care for, long-lived, and bearing beautiful flowers, if you have the space even for one of the smaller cultivars, then the addition of a forsythia shrub in your garden is a must.
*image by katmoy/depositphotos