Have you noticed the shrubs full of tiny yellow flowers just coming into bloom in our gardens?
They are most likely Forsythia. Commonly called by its genus name, Forsythia made its way into the gardens of Europe in the late 18th and early 19th century from Eastern Asia. Found growing in gardens in both Japan and China, and exported to Holland and Great Britain, Forsythia quickly spread from garden to garden on its new continent, and then on to North America.
Absolutely easy to grow, Forsythia , like daffodils, gives us a shot of bold yellow in the garden just as we feel like we can’t stand another day of winter’s greys and browns.
The tiny yellow flowers just burst with the message of spring as they open during the earliest of “almost warm” days. I’ve seen a whole bank of golden Forsythia bushes come into bloom, together, in earliest spring along a major roadway in southern Virginia Beach (Zone 8b). A magnificent sight. And once they open, a little snow and freezing rain doesn’t faze them, as we saw earlier this week.
Honestly, deer will nibble Forsythia . Nibble, but not destroy. Some of our Forsythia shrubs look oddly misshapen from grazing, but a few patches are massive.
Although not a native, these shrubs have naturalized in many areas of the United States. They provide an early nectar source for bees and other early nectar loving insects. Older shrubs, grown thick over the years, provide excellent cover and nesting areas for small birds and mammals.
Plant Forsythia in average soil in late fall or early spring in partial to full sun. Like any shrub, they need care until they establish. That means keeping the shrub irrigated during at least the first year. Once the roots take hold and spread, the Forsythia becomes quite tough and independent.
Beyond that initial care, the only thing you might do is trim the Forsythia up from time to time, after it blooms, to keep it from overgrowing its spot. These aren’t large shrubs, but they sucker. In other words, additional stems begin to grow around the original stem, and the shrub spreads laterally as it ages. Most stay under 6′ tall, but old shrubs may grow larger. Some gardeners rejuvenate older shrubs, and control their size, by cutting a few stems of established shrubs to the ground each year, after the shrub has leafed out in late spring. This stimulates new canes to grow from the crown.
I tend to cut my Forsythia back in late winter, before they bloom. I cut very judiciously, and only long branches covered in flower buds.
It isn’t so much pruning as harvesting. I love to bring those branches inside and keep them in a vase of water. They open very quickly in the heat of a home, and last for several weeks. Even after the flowers fade, the branches with leaves remain attractive. If they root before I’m ready to switch them out for something else, all the better. I can plant the rooted stems.
After losing a few of these newly rooted shrubs in recent sizzling summers, I would recommend planting these rooted cuttings into a pot. They will form a nice back drop against summer annuals. In autumn, when you’re cleaning the annuals out of the pot, either move the Forsythia out to the garden, or leave it in place for structure through the winter, planted with Violas, flowering Kale, bulbs, Heuchera, and snaps.
You can enjoy spring bloom in your potted arrangement, and then move the Forsythia to a location in the garden when you switch out the pot with your summer plants.
There are two main original species of Forsythia imported from Asia between the 1780’s and 1890’s. These plants had already been cultivated garden plants for centuries before they were “discovered” and imported to Europe. Since then, a great deal of hybridization has taken place. So one can purchase Forsythia with different growth habits, and with some variation in the shade of yellow of their blooms. Some Forsythia cultivars are more weeping and other cultivars more upright.
Personally, I’ve never purchased a Forsythia . Not only have they naturalized in Virginia, but they start easily from cuttings, or by layering.
This is another shrub common in our neighborhood. When the leaves come out after the blooms fade, these deciduous shrubs just fade into the background. They are completely unremarkable until autumn, when the leaves turn gold before they fall.
If one grows Forsythia , it is for the golden glow they reliably bring to the garden in earliest spring!
All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Reblogged this on Forest Garden and commented:
I’m just back indoors from cutting a few branches of Forsythia to take to some friends this morning. It is a wet wintery morning here, and the buds are still tightly coiled on the branches I’ve cut. But a few days indoors will coax them open and fill the room with springtime perfume.
If you need a breath of spring this morning, when so many across our country are under a winter storm, please enjoy reading this post I found in the Forest Garden archives about our beautiful Forsythia.
I had to stop by and see your forsythia because, believe it or not, we have none here. It’s almost shocking. lol! Honestly, I am surprised that Mrs. B (the former owner) didn’t have at least one forsythia somewhere on the property or in one of her flower gardens. I’ll have to gather some the next time I’m in Ohio (our youngest son and his wife are renting our old home), and get it started here. Spring doesn’t seem right without forsythia and pussywillows.
Oh Robin, I’m so sorry. Spring without Forsythia opening in the yard to announce the transition from winter to finally warmer weather! I just took my arrangement of Forsythia out of the dining room today. The flowers are fading, but the leaves are coming on, and roots beginning to form. There should be lots of Forsythia in little 1 gal pots in the nurseries on the Shore… should you want a head start on next season.
Hope you had sunshine and warmer weather today. A gorgeous day here to be out in the garden. Best wishes, WG
Forsythia is a wonderful plant which grows very well here on our chalky soil. It grows pretty tall too. We have one very large plant which – with its arching habit – is about 8-10 feet tall. It probably needs a lot harder pruning back. I like your idea of cutting the stems and letting them ripen indoors.
What a sight your huge Forsythia must be each spring! As long as the roots can support it, and the plant is healthy, I wouldn’t have the heart to give it that harder cutting back. I tend to allow plants to grow as they will… way to permissive with my plants to ever be a proper English gardener 😉 Yes, its nice to enjoy the blossoms indoors days or weeks before they open in the garden, so long as no one in the family suffers from allergies. The downside of the practice is having all of that pollen indoors and no bees to collect it.
I bring armloads of these into my house for forcing. Actually just wrote about that last week! My forsythia are wild and rangy; not exactly lovely landscape plants but they are in the “back forty” so I leave them alone. I do love their fall color though and use them for great additions to fall flower arrangements. Thanks for this great information.
I’ve been thinking about the Forsythia, and think the difference between our “full” one and our “rangy” ones may be the quality of the light. These definitely respond to full sun and adequate moisture during the season. Some of the difference may be due to grazing patterns when the deer get in, but I believe light makes a big difference. Some of ours actually bloomed in the late autumn, and I used branches in a large arrangement which stayed on the mantle for many weeks. Their shape makes them infinitely useful for defining the bones, doesn’t it? Are you in Zone 6? Your photos have the look of Northern or North Western VA.
I am in zone 7 in central Virginia – about 45 minutes west of Richmond in Amelia County. And my rangy forsythia are exactly as you say, in a wooded area. I dug some out a few years ago and replanted in full sun. Holy OVERGROWN! Those things went absolutely berserk and threatened to take over the entire bed. I had to wrangle them back under control and remove a couple. All is calm now!
Mine partially bloomed this fall as well. Also, I took a course in ikebana at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and the instructor loved using fall branches of forsythia in her elegant arrangements.
Oh, what a gorgeous area to garden! Zone 7 is perfect anyway, but out in the country one can do most anything. I love Amelia. One of my favorite gardens was about 30 miles east of you in the big neighborhood on Swift Creek reservoir, on the main road into town. It was heavily wooded, but I grew wonderful ferns and forest wildflowers there. So happy to know you have the Forsythias back under control. As much as your instructor loved the fall Forsythia, how she would create such beauty with a few stems of your flowering quince 😉 Best wishes, WG
Not Woodlake or Brandermill?
I wonder if that neighborhood was Brandermill or Woodlake?
😉 Yes, it was. A lovely place to live. But I love the smell of the dairy farms driving out to Amelia, and the wide open spaces. My students produced a little booklet entitled, “Memories of Amelia” WG
Good afternoon! I was down the mountain today and saw a lot of Forsythia blooming everywhere! It really pretty. I have a couple bushes with flower buds, they should bloom any day now! We have rain today but suppose to have sunshine tomorrow! I hope you guys are having a great weekend! 🙂
Hi Michael. Very wet here today, but the rain didn’t begin until late evening yesterday. We were able to do quite a bit of pruning and general cleaning up in the garden yesterday, finally! A wet day, today, so I’m working inside. Made the second batch of hypertufa pots yesterday,and headed down shortly to check on the progress. These are working out beautifully! Next sunny day, I’ll take some out to get photos. Glad you got a hike on the mountain and saw the Forsythia. Always stunning growing on a slope. Hope all is well with you two, best, WG