How to Plant and Grow Forsythia

This colorful shrub provides some of the first signs of spring.

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 unsettled 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 snow, and little else shows 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. 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 Overview

Genus Name Forsythia
Common Name Forsythia
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 3 to 8 feet
Width 4 to 12 feet
Flower Color Yellow
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage, Spring Bloom
Special Features Cut Flowers, Low Maintenance
Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Layering, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant, Good For Privacy, Groundcover, Slope/Erosion Control

Where to Plant Forsythia

Plant forsythia in full sun for the most blooms, although the shrub will tolerate a light-shade location. It is hardy in USDA zones 4–9 and grows best in well-draining soil. Give it plenty of room to spread. If you are planting more than one, space them at least 6 feet apart. Forsythia looks great standing alone as a focal point, in a border, or when planted as a hedge.

How and When to Plant Forsythia

Forsythia isn't picky about when it is planted as long as the ground isn't frozen or a frost isn't imminent. In general, gardeners in warm areas plant it in the fall, and those in colder areas plant it in early spring. Forsythias can be found in nursery containers or shipped as bare-root plants.

If the plant is in a container, dig a hole twice the container's width and the same depth. Set the plant in the hole at the same depth it was in the container. Fill the hole with good-quality soil and press it down around the roots. Water the shrub well. Don't fertilize until the plant is established.

Bare-root forsythia shrubs are often available online. They result in smaller plants than those grown in containers initially, but forsythia is a fast grower. Prepare the soil before the plant arrives by adding organic matter. Plant the shrub as soon as it arrives. Include the packing medium in the hole and plant it at the same depth as the original plant (judged by a visual ring on the root). Water it after planting and regularly for a year afterward.

Forsythia Care Tips

These spring-blooming knockouts are easy to grow and quite adaptable.


For the best blooms, plant your forsythias in full sun. These versatile shrubs can handle part shade, but they will generally have fewer blooms come spring. Also, the chance of fall color is diminished in shade.

Soil and Water

Forsythias prefer well-drained, evenly moist soil but tolerate other soil types. They can even handle clay soil if it is amended to drain well. Water the shrubs once a week unless it rains and even more frequently the first year. Forsythia shrubs can handle some drought after they are established.

Temperature and Humidity

Although forsythia handles a range of temperatures, the magic happens when the soil reaches 55°F and the plant blooms. The shrub grows best at 55°F to 70°F but is hardy in other temperatures, including below 0°F in the colder zones, but expect some winter damage at that point. Forsythia performs best in average humidity.


Fertilize established forsythia shrubs with a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 ratio of nutrients) in spring and summer, following the product directions. Don't fertilize at all in the fall or winter. Also, don't fertilize newly planted shrubs for the first year.


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 benefit from regular shaping to maintain a neat habit. This should be done right after blooming to prevent removing any future buds.

The best way to maintain forsythias and 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 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 encourages the whole plant to re-flush and can bring back its old habit.

Pests and Problems

Forsythia shrubs are somewhat resistant to insect damage, although they can fall prey to aphids, spider mites, and the fourlined plant bug. If this happens, an application of insecticidal soap or neem oil should handle the problem.

Gardeners might not be as familiar with another affliction forsythia shrubs may experience—forsythia gall disease, which displays as bumpy deformities that appear on the stems and weaken them. It is likely the result of a bacterial or fungal infection spread by sucking insects. At this point, there is no treatment. Prevention includes buying plants from a reputable seller, disinfecting pruning shears before using them and afterward, spacing the plants for good airflow, and watering at soil level to keep the leaves dry.

How to Propagate Forsythia

Layering and cuttings are the two best (and easiest) ways to propagate a forsythia shrub.

Layering: Fill a large pot with potting soil and place it close to the shrub. Pick a stem that is long enough to bend down and reach the pot with a foot to spare. Scrape the stem about 10 inches from the tip and bury the scraped part 2 inches in the pot of soil, leaving the rest of it above the soil line. Don't cut it off the stem! You may need to use a rock or another weight to hold the stem down in the pot. Keep the potting soil moist. After roots form, cut the stem reaching from the parent plant to the pot. This process is so easy that the plant may do it by itself. Look under and around an existing forsythia for tiny volunteer shrubs.

Cuttings: In midsummer, take a 6-inch cutting from the tip of a stem from the current year's growth. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting and dip the end into rooting hormone. Fill a small pot with perlite and make a hole with a pencil. Insert the cutting, firm up the medium, and water it well. Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag and seal it. Put it in a warm place, but not in direct sun. After a few days, unseal the bag to let in fresh air and don't reseal it. Roots should develop in six to eight weeks. Transplant it into a larger pot and continue to care for it until the weather allows it to be hardened off and planted in the garden.

Types of Forsythia

'Arnold Giant' Forsythia

Forsythia shrub
David Speer

Forsythia 'Arnold Giant' bears big, deeply colored blooms on a compact shrub that grows 5 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-9

'Lynwood' Forsythia

Forsythia x intermedia 'Lynwood'
Bill Stites

Forsythia x intermedia 'Lynwood' features rich buttery-yellow blooms on a symmetrical shrub that grows 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-9

'Beatrix Farrand' Forsythia

Forsythia intermedia
Jon Jensen

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

Gold Tide Forsythia

forsythia single branch of spring flowering shrub
David Speer

Forsythia 'Courtasol', or Gold Tide, is a dwarf form that stays 2 feet tall but spreads 4 feet wide. Zones 5-9

'Northern Sun' Forsythia

yellow Forsythia 'Northern Sun' branch detail
Todd Dacquisto

Forsythia 'Northern Sun' is an exceptionally cold-hardy variety that produces clear yellow flowers. It grows 10 feet tall and 9 feet wide. Zones 4-9

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What types of pollinators visit forsythia?

    Forsythia shrubs have a relatively low amount of nectar and pollen, but in early spring, they are the only game in town, so bees, butterflies, and birds visit until other more attractive-to-pollinator plants bloom.

  • How long do forsythia shrubs live?

    As long as they don't suffer cold damage, the shrubs routinely live 20 to 30 years, and some have been known to reach 45.

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