How to Grow and Care for Forsythia

forsythia

Quick Overview

Plant Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Forsythia
Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Watering: Watered regularly when young
Colors: Yellow
Size: 2–10 feet tall, depending on variety
Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8
Soil Type: Swampy, marshy, well-draining soil
Soil pH: 5.0–8.0 (acidic to alkaline)
Propagation: By stem cuttings
Toxicity: Non-toxic

Forsythia is a bright yellow-flowered bush that originated in southeast Europe and Asia. They are one of the earliest plants to bloom in the spring. They showcase beautiful, yellow flowers that are also called “golden bells. ”

Forsythias are low-maintenance, fast-growing plants with bright flowers that cheer up any landscaping. They can be used as hedgerows or planted singularly, and some varieties can be trained to grow on trellises or vines. Forsythia plants prefer moist, more temperate climates and thrive with at least six hours of sunlight each day. While they develop drought resiliency as they mature, they prefer moderately watered soil. If they do become distressed, they won’t bloom, but they often can recover if conditions are more favorable for the rest of the year. The most maintenance you will likely have to do for your forsythia is to prune it each year to keep it happy and clean.

While Forsythias are simple, non-fussy plants, some things can distress them. Keep reading to learn how to keep your Forsythia happy, healthy, and blooming annually. 

forsythia

About Forsythia

Forsythia plants are known as one of the markers of spring, as they are one of the earliest spring-blooming shrubs. They are hardy and resilient and require little maintenance year-round. 

They are named for the Scottish botanist, William Forsyth, and are often referred to as a “golden bell” for their bell-shaped flowers. These flowers grow in clusters along the plant’s stem and bloom in spring. 

They are outdoor, landscaping shrubs and can be planted individually or as a hedgerow. There are some varieties (weeping forsythia) that can be trained to grow on vines or trellises, as well. 

This weeping form of forsythia shrubs can also be a good choice for those looking to control erosion on hills or slopes. Drooping branches grow roots wherever they make contact with the ground, acting as ground covers. 

While some forsythia shrubs are only a couple of feet tall, others can grow up to ten feet. They grow very quickly, often up to two feed in just one year. 

forsythia

Growing Forsythia

Planting

For most individuals, it is recommended that you plant your forsythia shrubs in late fall or early spring when they are still dormant. But if you live in a frost-free climate, you can plant in the winter as well. 

Consider space when planting your forsythia shrub. While they can be pruned back, they can also grow up to the size of a small tree (8-10 feet), so you may need to plant them somewhere where they have space to grow. 

If you are planting a hedgerow, plant the bushes 4-6 feet apart. 

Most garden centers sell established forsythia shrubs in nursery pots for you to use. But there are several other options to consider when starting your plant.

  • Bare rootstock – This consists of a stem with all of the soil removed from the roots. These are easily purchased online, should you not be able to get one from your local garden center. 
  • Bagged rootstock with soil – This includes roots and soil, with at least one stem. This is the quickest, easiest way to start your forsythia, but it is also the most expensive. 
  • Division – You can divide an existing forsythia into separate plants by digging down into the root system and separating it into 2 parts. 
  • Seed – You can grow forsythia from seed, as well. Though this is generally not recommended as a reliable method of growth. 
  • Layering – Forsythia will begin to grow roots if their branches come in contact with the ground. By bending the stem of an existing plant to the ground (this is called layering), you can promote it taking root. These rooted branches can then be separated from the rest of the plant.
  • Stem cuttings – Stems from an existing plant can be directly into the ground and will sprout roots. For best results, do this in the spring. 
forsythia

Transplanting Forsythia

If you do find, down the road, that you need to transplant your forsythia bush, you can do this. Though, you do need to be careful not to damage the root ball of your shrub. 

Before moving your plant, consider renovation pruning first to see if your shrub simply needs to be shaped up to fit in its original space. 

If this is not adequate, transplanting it can be done and usually without long-term damage to the plant. 

Transplanting forsythia is best done during the growing part of the season, either in the spring or early fall before it goes dormant. Do not try to transplant your forsythia in the winter or if there has recently been a frost. 

Begin by digging a hole at least 40 cm around the base of the plant.

It will be impossible not to damage some of the roots, but forsythias are resilient and will bounce back. 

Water the shrub well the day before the move. When you begin to dig up the shrub, do your best, as with most plants, to get as much of the root ball as you can. 

You may need to use ropes to pull the bush out of the ground.

Have the new location for your forsythia already dug up and pre-watered to minimize the time spent out of the soil. 

yellow flower

Forsythia Plant Care

Temperature & Humidity

Forsythia plants prefer slightly humid climates. They are happiest when temperatures are somewhere between 55- 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

If it is too dry, they will not flower. But if it is too wet, they might wilt. These responses only occur in extreme cases. Most of the time, the forsythia is very adaptable. 

New forsythia shrubs are a little more sensitive to their surroundings, but, as forsythia shrubs grow, they develop resiliency for cooler or warmer temperatures. 

Although, if temperatures get too cold (well below freezing), the forsythia may get stressed and respond by not blooming the following year. This can happen if their environment drops below five degrees Fahrenheit. However, apart from extreme cases, they tend to recover. 

In the same vein, frost can be a problem for forsythia if it comes early in the year. It likely won’t kill your plant, but it may also impact its ability to bloom that spring. 

Gardeners who live in the north may want to research different varieties that may be more cold-hardy for their region. 

If you know a frost or cold front is coming, consider covering your forsythia. Use burlap to do this, or another similar material that allows the air to circulate around the plant. 

Light 

Forsythia plants enjoy full sun, with at least six hours a day of unfiltered sunlight. 

They can tolerate less sun, but they may not flower as well that spring.

yellow flower

Soil

Well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter is ideal for forsythia plants. But they can often tolerate dry or clay-like soil better than other plants. 

They are also resilient to more acidic and more alkaline soil, though they ideally would like to have soil with a pH between 7-8. 

In general, swampy, marshy soil will not be the best for forsythia plants.

It is recommended to place mulch around your forsythia plant to retain moisture, as they do prefer moderately damp soil. 

This can help your forsythia retain water during dry periods of the year. It can also prevent weeds from growing and spreading. 

Water

Because they prefer more moist soil, forsythia plants should be watered regularly, especially when they are young. 

They do have some drought tolerance once they mature and establish their roots. But to keep your shrub happy, make sure it’s getting water 1-2 times per week. 

Ideally, your forsythia should receive 1-2 inches of water each week. If you don’t receive enough rain in your area to keep your forsythia watered, use your hose to give them a good drink. 

Fertilizer 

Do not fertilize your forsythia before it is a year old.

After that, you can fertilize your shrub every 2-3 months using a granular, balanced fertilizer during the spring and summer months. 

Do not fertilize them in the fall or the winter while they are dormant or right before they go into dormancy. 

Propagating Forsythia 

Forsythia shrubs are easy to propagate and naturally spread on their own. The weeping varieties will grow roots wherever they come in contact with the ground. This action allows the bush to spread naturally. 

If you decide to propagate your forsythia bush yourself, be sure to wait until after it has bloomed in mid-late spring. 

To propagate, take a stem cutting from your bush, root it, and plant it. 

To root your stem, take a 5-10 inch cutting, remove the lowest leaves, and place in a moist mixture of peat moss, perlite, and sand. Roots will begin to develop on their own from the nodes on the cutting’s stem. 

Once the roots have developed, plant your shrub in well-draining, moist soil.

Pruning Forsythia

Whether or not you decide to prune your forsythia shrub depends on your preference and the amount of space your forsythia shrub has. 

Because they grow well on their own, forsythia shrubs can easily take on an unruly shape. 

For those who want a cleaner look, you may choose to prune your shrub annually. 

If you decide to prune your forsythia shrub, be sure to wait until after the flowering season finishes in the spring.

If you wait to prune until after July, you risk impacting your forsythia’s bloom the following spring.

When pruning the shrub, use sharp pruning shears to cut ⅓ of the older branches down to the ground, encouraging new growth. From there, you can do any other cosmetic branch trimming that you want to shape your forsythia. 

Don’t be afraid to be aggressive in your pruning. Your plant will grow back quickly, and it will likely be fuller. 

forsythia

Pests & Disease 

Insects and disease issues are infrequent with forsythias. Though, there are a few diseases and pests that sometimes affect them. 

For example, forsythia shrubs can be susceptible to knobby galls. 

As the name suggests, these are knobby, woody abnormalities that accumulate on the forsythia’s stem, caused by a fungus. 

Forsythia bushes can also be prone to fungal twig blights. Fungal twig blights tend to attack your plant in early spring when the buds are just opening. It is caused by a fungus that spreads through other infected twigs, rain, or irrigation.

Both of these diseases are addressed by removing the affected twigs or branches. Additionally, twig blights are prevented by keeping the bush well-pruned and applying a fungicide. 

Sometimes bugs may suck on the rolled-up leaves of the forsythia in the spring, but do not be alarmed if this occurs. It will not harm the plant and will only slightly affect it aesthetically. 

forsythia

Forcing Blooms

Forsythia branches can be brought indoors and forced to bloom to make lovely arrangements that you can keep in a vase. 

This can be done at any time throughout the winter. The warmth from the indoors will prompt the buds to open and reveal a spring-like bouquet! 

To force your forsythia to bloom:

  • Select 3-4 branches that have buds on them.
  • Cut them to be around 12 inches and remove buds that fall below the water. 
  • Place the branches in a vase with lukewarm water and set them near a window, where they will get plenty of sunlight. 
  • Change the water every couple of days to keep it fresh. 

The flowers may take anywhere from a couple of days or a few weeks to open. But when they do, you will be able to enjoy the cheery blossoms of the forsythia plant indoors!

Final Thoughts 

Forsythia shrubs are bright, cheery bushes that can brighten up your landscape each spring. They can be drought resilient and cold-hardy but do prefer moderate temperatures and regular watering. 

These plants are simple to care for and not highly susceptible to disease or pests. This non-fussiness makes them an excellent plant for new gardeners looking to build their confidence. 

Share what you’ve learned here on social media. If you have any additional questions on how to care for your forsythia plant, ask us in the comments below!