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Forsythia Bushes - Plants That Herald Spring

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forsythia flowering shrubs

Nothing lights up the spring landscape like forsythia.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Forsythia Bushes:

The plant taxonomy of border forsythias is Forsythia x intermedia. They are a hybrid of greenstem (F. viridissima) and a weeping type (F. suspensa). This plant profile deals with F. x intermedia. These plants are sometimes given the common name, "golden bells." Note: forsythia is often misspelled as either "forcynthia," but, I assure you, they're not just for Cynthia, they're for you, for me, and for anyone else who loves beautiful flowers in spring.

Plant Type:

Border forsythias are deciduous shrubs.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones for Forsythia Bushes:

Border forsythia plants are hardy to zone 5.

Characteristics of Forsythia Bushes:

These early bloomers sport the vibrant yellow flowers that have become a fixture of our spring dreams. Their flowers precede their leaves. Border forsythias are fast-growing shrubs with an upright and arching form. "Sunrise" forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia 'Sunrise') is more compact than many forsythia shrubs, growing 4'-6' tall with a spread of 3'-5'. By contrast, Forsythia x intermedia 'Meadowlark' grows 8'-10' tall. In between is Forsythia x intermedia 'Northern Gold', at 6'-8' tall.

Plant Care for Forsythia Shrubs:

See below under "When to Prune Forsythia Bushes." If left to their own devices, forsythia plants take on a rather wild-looking shape, as branches shoot out this way and that. Most people prefer this wild look, pruning forsythia bushes only sparingly. Through regular pruning, you can shape forsythia bushes to conform to a more regular shape, if you so choose.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Forsythia Plants:

Forsythia plants grow best in full sun and a well-drained soil.

Forsythia Shrubs in Landscape Design - Uses:

Border forsythias, as the name suggests, are often used to demarcate property boundaries. They are also often used as a "living wall" privacy fence for summer and fall, after they have fully leafed out. Forsythia plants can also be used as specimens and for erosion control on slopes.

You can also force forsythia. Like forcing pussy willows, it's a great way for the impatient to gain an early taste of springtime.

When to Prune Forsythia Bushes:

Pruning of forsythia bushes is best done just after they've finished putting on their flower display in spring, because they bloom on the prior year's growth (pruning either too late or too early interrupts the growth/blooming cycle). Begin by pruning 1/4 to 1/3 of oldest branches, pruning them right down to the ground. This will encourage new growth and a more compact form. Beyond this "renewal pruning," you can also selectively cut newer branches in order to improve upon the overall shape of your forsythia plants.

Note that annual pruning is by no means mandatory. If you're happy with your forsythia shrubs as they are, you may wish to go several years between prunings. Note also that there's an additional incentive for pruning forsythia shrubs just after their spring blooms start to fade, beyond wishing not to interrupt the growth/blooming cycle. This is the time when it's easiest to tell the newest branches apart from the older. Only the older branches will have blooms; the first-year branches won't have any yet, so you have a graphic reminder to avoid pruning them.


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