Often called a harbinger of spring, forsythia bursts into a vibrant display of bright yellow blooms before any of its foliage emerges. This creates stunning spots of golden color throughout landscapes, breaking up the drab snow-covered ground with a promise of what’s to come. With newer varieties that offer smaller, more manageable sizes, every landscape should have a forsythia to break out of the late winter blahs.
Late winter always makes gardeners antsy for spring. You've had your first few warm days and the sun is finally shining, but the weather is still too unsure to begin much else other than starting seeds indoors. Forsythia relishes this season, as if it's just as antsy to get started as any gardener. This shrub bursts into bloom in late winter, often when the ground is still covered in a blanket of snow and little else is showing signs of life. With their rich golden blooms, in shades from pale yellow to rich gold, these plants stand out.
The foliage of forsythia is nothing particularly noteworthy. A deep green in color, the serrated leaves act as a neutral backdrop for perennials and annuals. After a good growing season, you can usually see some deep purple fall color just before the leaves fall.
Forsythia Care Must-Knows
These spring-blooming knockouts are easy to grow and quite adaptable. Forsythias prefer well-drained, evenly moist soil, but they are pretty tolerant of many different soil types. They can also handle drought fairly well once established and can even get along just fine in clay soils. For the best blooms, make sure to plant your forsythias in full sun. These versatile shrubs can handle part shade, but you will generally have fewer blooms come spring. The chance of fall color is also diminished in more shade.
Related: How to Prune Spring-Flowering Shrubs
Forsythias have a graceful natural growth habit that can be ruined with improper pruning. Because most varieties on the market today are a hybrid of a weeping type and a more upright shrub, they tend to have a slightly weeping habit that some may perceive as messy. To fix this, people tend to shear their forsythias, which works fine, but as new growth comes, it tends to be even messier. Sheared forsythias will benefit from regular shaping to maintain a neat habit. This should be done right after blooming to prevent removing any future buds.
Related: Flowering Shrubs by Season
The best way to keep forsythias maintained and to conserve their original habit is by selectively pruning out old wood after blooming. Remove any branches that look old and woody at the base of the plant. This will encourage the plant to branch at the base, preventing any erratic new growth from cut stems. If plants are truly out of control or just messy, forsythias can be refreshed with a harsh rejuvenation pruning. This can be done by cutting back the entire shrub to just above ground level. Harsh pruning will encourage the whole plant to re-flush, and can also bring back their old habit if the shrubs had been pruned poorly in the past.
More Varieties of Forsythia
Forsythia 'Arnold Giant' bears big, deeply colored blooms on a compact shrub that grows 5 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-9
Forsythia x intermedia 'Lynwood' features rich buttery-yellow blooms on a symmetrical shrub that grows 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-9
Forsythia 'Beatrix Farrand' bears deep yellow blooms in early and mid-spring on an arching shrub. It grows 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Zones 6-9
Forsythia 'Courtasol', or Gold Tide, is a dwarf form that stays 2 feet tall but spreads 4 feet wide. Zones 5-9