Monday, March 14, 2011

Apple #511: Forsythia

It's that time of year when the forsythia bushes are beginning to bloom.  I saw the first one of the season blooming in my neighborhood the other day.

Forsythia blooming its nice, bright yellow flowers when few plants aren't doing much of anything yet.
(Photo by Arielle from Flickr, sourced from Country Gardener)

  • Forsythia plants are members of the olive family.
  • They're originally from China.
  • Forsythia plants are named after William Forsyth, a guy who was one of the founders of the Royal Horticultural Society in England in the late 1700s.
  • You might think that because they're named after Forsyth, he had something to do with the discovery of the plants.  Not so.  They were discovered by a different guy named Robert Fortune.  He was a plant enthusiast and he discovered the shrubs in China.
  • Some people call the plants Golden Bells, after the shape of the flowers.

Botanists would say these blooms have 4 lobes, mostly in clusters of 2 or 6. The layperson might say they look like golden bells.
(Photo from Garden Calendar)

  • The flowers bloom in March or April and stay in bloom only about two to three weeks.
  • The forsythia's flowers bloom so early, the plant's own leaves haven't even popped out when the flowers are open.
  • The rest of the year, the plants don't look like much. But they sure are a welcome sight in early spring.
  • If you really want to see the forsythia bloom in the winter, you can force them. Cut off a few of the branches all the way to the stem, bring them inside, and put them in a vase with water.  After only a few weeks, the branches will bloom into those characteristic bright yellow flowers.
  • Some people use them as "border" plants, a whole bunch of them in a row. When not in bloom, they provide a natural screen.  When in bloom, the effect of so many forsythia blooming all in a row can be pretty spectacular.

Forsythia grown in a border
(Photo from The Gardener's Network)

  • You can grow forsythia bushes from branch cuttings. Cut a 3- to 6-inch branch and put the end in moist soil.  Over the next 3 weeks or so, keep the soil moist until the branch develops roots.
  • Once the branch has grown roots, you can plant it any time.  However, the time of year when they'll like it the best is in the winter, when they are dormant.
  • They also like the soil to be moist, but well-drained.

Because they're easy to care for and because of their bright, cheerful flowers, forsythias are a favorite with home landscapers.
(Photo from Home Interiors Junction)

  • You don't have to prune them, but because they grow so fast, you'll probably want to.  Forsythia plants have it in them to grow as large as 7 or even 10 feet tall.

Dwarf forsythias are a popular variety because they can be grown in tight spaces. The dwarf will only reach about 2-4 feet high.
(Photo from Brighter Blooms)

    • It's best to cut back the branches right after they've finished blooming, in still early spring.  Cut off the oldest branches, not all but about 1/4 to 1/3 of them.  Choose the ones that are rubbing against each other and ones that are curving back in toward the center.  Also remove ones that are hanging down so that they are touching or close to the ground. 
    • Cut the branches down as close to the ground as you can get, or at least within 4 inches of the ground.  This will encourage new growth which will sprout in a more compact arrangement.
    • Even if you cut the entire shrub to the base, new canes will sprout the next spring, and by the following year, you'll have a whole, blooming forsythia again.
    • Keep in mind, those newer branches won't bloom the first year.  When it's pruning time, you'll know not to cut the branches that didn't bloom.

    Bluebirds are a welcome sight, too. A bluebird on a forsythia branch must surely be the best kind of good luck.
    (You can buy a print of this photo from Marie Read Wildlife Photography for $45)

    About Forsythia
    David Beaulieu, Forsythia Bushes - Plants That Herald Spring,
    U Conn Plant Database, Forsythia x intermedia (Border Forsythia)
    Flower Gardening Made Easy, How to Prune Forsythia
    The Gardener's Network, How to Grow and Care for Forsythia Bushes
    The Garden Helper, How to Grow and Care for a Golden Bells Forsythia Plant


    1. I forgot all about forsythia, living out here in California. Thanks for the memories.

    2. Plant something else please. These shrubs have overstayed their welcome and are a bore to my eyes.

    3. Forsythia's are beautiful and any gardener what appreciates a vibrant blooms in early spring should enjoy them.I love them, in fact i bought 25 to line my drive in. They are gorgeous in early spring and one of the first bloomers!

    4. I love them too. I like the Karl Sax variety. They are very dark yellow.I bought them here


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