Forsythia, with its vibrant yellow flowers also called “golden bells” and attractive arching branches, is a herald of spring that adds a burst of color to gardens and landscapes. Native to Eastern Asia and Southeast Europe, this deciduous shrub from the Oleaceae family has become a favorite ornamental plant among gardeners for its low maintenance and striking appearance. In this comprehensive guide, I will cover everything you need to know about caring for and growing Forsythia in your garden, from choosing the right variety to mastering ongoing care techniques.
Forsythias are low-maintenance, fast-growing perennial 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 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 plants, early spring-blooming shrubs, are hardy and low-maintenance. Named after William Forsyth, they feature bell-shaped flowers and can be grown individually or as hedgerows.
Forsythia Care Guide
A crucial aspect of maintaining the health and vibrancy of your Forsythia shrubs is providing them with the proper ongoing care.
Forsythia is relatively drought-tolerant once established. However, they prefer more moist soil, so during the first year, regular watering is crucial for root development. Water your Forsythia deeply once a week, providing about an inch of water, and adjust according to weather conditions. In hot, dry periods, you might need to water more frequently, whereas, during rainy seasons, you can reduce the frequency. 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.
Forsythia is drought-tolerant but prefers moist soil. Water deeply once a week, adjusting for weather conditions, to support root development.
Forsythia thrives in full sun to partial shade, and providing the right amount of sunlight is essential for the health and flowering of the plant. For the most abundant flowering, I recommend planting your Forsythia in a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. In areas with hot summers, a spot with dappled afternoon shade can help protect the plant from excessive heat stress, while still ensuring sufficient sunlight exposure. If the plant is in too much shade, it may produce fewer blooms and become leggy, as it stretches towards the light source. Keep in mind that adequate light exposure not only promotes flowering but also enhances foliage growth and overall plant health.
Forsythia thrives in full sun to partial shade. Plant in a location with at least 6 hours of sunlight for abundant flowering and healthy growth.
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.
Forsythia grows well in well-draining, organically rich soil, tolerating a range of pH levels. Use mulch to retain moisture and prevent weed growth.
Fertilizing Forsythia plants
Forsythia typically doesn’t require heavy fertilization. However, applying a balanced slow-release fertilizer in early spring can provide essential nutrients for healthy growth. I recommend using a granular, balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer, during the spring and summer months. Sprinkling it around the base of the plant according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Remember not to over-fertilize, as this can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of flowering. Also, do not fertilize your forsythia before it is a year old and do not fertilize them in the fall or the winter while they are dormant or right before they go into dormancy.
Apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer in early spring. Avoid over-fertilizing to prevent excessive foliage growth at the expense of flowering.
Temperature and Humidity
Forsythia is a hardy plant that can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, typically thriving in USDA zones 5-9. In colder climates, the plant can withstand winter temperatures as low as -20°F (-29°C), and it will even bloom after a frost. In warmer climates, Forsythia can handle temperatures up to 95°F (35°C) with proper care, such as providing sufficient water and dappled shade during the hottest part of the day.
As for humidity, Forsythia adapts well to various levels but prefers moderate humidity. To maintain optimum humidity levels, ensure proper air circulation around the plant by giving it enough space and pruning regularly. If you live in an area with high humidity, be vigilant for signs of fungal diseases, as excessive moisture can create a breeding ground for these issues. In contrast, in low humidity regions, you might need to water more frequently to maintain soil moisture and prevent the plant from becoming too dry.
In fact, 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.
Forsythia tolerates a wide temperature range and prefers moderate humidity. Ensure proper air circulation and monitor for signs of fungal diseases.
Planting and Growing Forsythia
Proper planting is essential for establishing and growing a healthy Forsythia shrub that will grace your garden with stunning yellow blooms.
- Site Selection: Choose a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, as Forsythia thrives in full sun to partial shade. Ensure the site has well-draining soil, and consider testing the soil pH to confirm that it falls within the slightly acidic to neutral range of 6.0-7.0. Remember to provide enough space for the mature size of your chosen Forsythia variety.
- Planting Time: The best time to plant Forsythia is in early spring or fall when the weather is mild, and the soil is workable. These planting windows allow the shrub to establish its root system before the stress of summer heat or winter cold sets in.
- Preparing the Planting Hole: Dig a hole that is twice as wide and just as deep as the root ball of your Forsythia. This will give the roots ample space to spread out and establish themselves in the soil. If your soil is compacted or heavy clay, consider amending it with organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, to improve drainage and aeration.
- Planting the Forsythia: Gently remove the Forsythia from its container, taking care not to damage the roots. Place the plant in the center of the hole, ensuring that the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole halfway with soil, and then water to help settle the soil around the roots. Finish filling the hole with soil, gently firming it down to eliminate air pockets.
- Post-Planting Care: Water your newly planted Forsythia deeply to ensure the roots are well-hydrated. Apply a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the stem to prevent rot. Monitor the plant’s moisture levels and provide supplemental water as needed, especially during the first year as the plant establishes itself.
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.
Select a sunny location with well-draining soil for your Forsythia. Plant in early spring or fall, preparing a spacious hole and ensuring proper root placement. Water deeply, mulch, and monitor moisture for healthy growth.
Types of Forsythia
With various Forsythia species and cultivars available, it’s essential to understand the differences between them so that you can choose the best one for your garden. Here are some of the most popular types of Forsythia, each with its unique characteristics and growth habits.
- Forsythia x intermedia: This hybrid species is a cross between F. suspensa and F. viridissima, and it’s one of the most widely grown Forsythia varieties. Forsythia x intermedia is prized for its abundant golden-yellow blooms and sturdy, upright growth habit. Some popular cultivars include ‘Lynwood Gold,’ ‘Spectabilis,’ and ‘Golden Peep,’ which vary in size and bloom density.
- Forsythia viridissima: Native to China, Forsythia viridissima is known for its dark green foliage and somewhat later blooming period compared to other species. This type of Forsythia is also more shade-tolerant, making it a great option for gardens with less sun exposure. Notable cultivars include ‘Bronxensis,’ a compact variety suitable for small spaces, and ‘Variegata,’ which features variegated leaves.
- Forsythia suspensa: Forsythia suspensa is a vining species, characterized by its gracefully arching branches and slightly smaller, paler yellow flowers. This variety is ideal for creating a cascading effect in the landscape or training it along a trellis or fence. The weeping form, ‘Pendula,’ is particularly popular for its elegant, drooping branches.
- Forsythia ovata: Forsythia ovata, also known as Korean Forsythia, is a compact, cold-hardy species that’s perfect for smaller gardens or tight spaces. Its bright yellow flowers appear early in the spring, and the dark green leaves turn an attractive purple hue in the fall. ‘Spring Glory’ and ‘Northern Gold’ are two popular cultivars known for their cold tolerance and profuse flowering.
- Forsythia giraldiana: Originating from China, Forsythia giraldiana is a lesser-known species with an upright growth habit and bright yellow flowers. This variety is valued for its tolerance to alkaline soils and resistance to some common Forsythia diseases, making it a resilient choice for many gardens.
Choosing the right variety for your garden
When selecting a Forsythia for your garden, consider factors such as available space, sunlight exposure, climate, and desired growth habit. By choosing a variety that suits your specific conditions and preferences, you can enjoy a thriving, vibrant Forsythia shrub that will provide a stunning spring display year after year.
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.
Transplant Forsythia carefully during growing season (spring or early fall), avoiding root damage. Prune before transplanting, if possible. Water well before moving, and prepare the new location beforehand for minimal out-of-soil time.
Pruning is a crucial aspect of maintaining the health, appearance, and vigor of your Forsythia shrub. Proper pruning encourages new growth, helps control size, and prevents the plant from becoming unruly.
When to Prune
The ideal time to prune Forsythia is immediately after the plant has finished blooming, typically in late spring. Pruning at this time allows the plant to produce new growth during the summer, which will become next year’s flowering stems. Avoid pruning in late fall or winter, as this can reduce the number of flowers the following spring.
Basic Pruning Techniques
- Remove dead or damaged branches: Begin by cutting away any dead, diseased, or damaged branches to maintain the health of the plant. Use clean, sharp pruning shears to make clean cuts close to the main stem or branch.
- Thin out old growth: Forsythia flowers best on one to three-year-old branches. Remove about one-third of the oldest, thickest stems at ground level each year to encourage new, more productive growth.
- Shape the plant: Trim back any long or overgrown branches to maintain the desired shape and size of your Forsythia. Cut back to a bud or side branch that’s facing the direction you want the new growth to follow.
- Rejuvenation pruning: If your Forsythia has become too overgrown or neglected, rejuvenation pruning can help restore its vitality. This involves cutting all stems back to about 4-6 inches above the ground. While this may seem drastic, it encourages vigorous new growth and a more compact, healthy plant.
Prune Forsythia after blooming (late spring) to maintain health and appearance. Remove dead/damaged branches, thin old growth, and shape the plant. Rejuvenation pruning helps restore overgrown or neglected shrubs by cutting stems back significantly.
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. There are several methods to propagate Forsythia, allowing you to expand your collection or share these vibrant shrubs with friends and family.
Growing Forsythia from Seeds
Growing Forsythia from seeds can be a rewarding experience, but it requires patience, as germination may take several weeks. Follow these steps to start Forsythia seeds:
- Harvest seeds from ripe Forsythia fruit in late summer or early fall.
- Clean the seeds, removing any pulp or residue, and let them air-dry.
- Store the seeds in a sealed container in the refrigerator for about 90 days to mimic winter’s cold stratification process.
- After stratification, sow the seeds in a well-draining seed-starting mix, covering them lightly with soil.
- Keep the soil consistently moist and maintain a temperature of 65-70°F (18-21°C).
- Once seedlings emerge and develop a few sets of true leaves, transplant them into individual pots or directly into your garden.
Harvest, clean, and cold-stratify seeds; sow in well-draining mix; transplant seedlings.
Stem cuttings are the most common method for propagating Forsythia, as it’s relatively quick and has a high success rate. Here’s how to take stem cuttings:
- In late spring or early summer, take a 6-8 inch cutting from a healthy, non-flowering stem.
- Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting and dip the cut end into rooting hormone to encourage root development.
- Plant the cutting in a pot filled with well-draining, moistened potting mix, burying at least two nodes beneath the soil surface.
- Cover the pot with a plastic bag to create a humid environment and place it in a bright, indirect light location.
- Monitor the cutting’s moisture levels, and once roots have formed (usually in 4-6 weeks), transplant it into a larger container or your garden.
Take a cutting from a healthy stem, use rooting hormone, plant in moistened potting mix, and transplant when rooted.
Layering is a simple method for propagating Forsythia that involves encouraging roots to form on a stem while it’s still attached to the parent plant. Follow these steps for successful layering:
- In early spring or fall, choose a flexible, healthy stem that can be bent down to the ground.
- Make a shallow, upward-slanting cut on the underside of the stem, about a foot from the tip, and apply rooting hormone to the cut.
- Bend the stem down to the ground and bury the cut portion in the soil, securing it with a U-shaped wire or a heavy rock.
- Water the buried section and wait for roots to develop, which may take several months.
- Once roots have formed, sever the new plant from the parent and transplant it to your desired location.
Choose a flexible stem, make a cut, apply rooting hormone, bury cut section, and transplant new plant when rooted.
Forsythia in Container Gardening
Growing Forsythia in containers is an excellent option for gardeners with limited space or those who wish to add a touch of vibrant color to their patios, balconies, or entryways.
Choosing the Right Container
Select a large, sturdy container with drainage holes to accommodate the mature size of your chosen Forsythia variety. Dwarf varieties work best for container gardening, as they have a more compact growth habit. The container should be at least 18-24 inches in diameter and depth to provide ample space for root development.
Potting Mix and Planting for Containers
Use a high-quality, well-draining potting mix that retains moisture but doesn’t become waterlogged. Plant your Forsythia at the same depth it was in its previous container, ensuring the root ball’s top is level with the soil surface. Gently firm the soil around the plant and water thoroughly to settle the soil.
Ongoing Care in Containers
- Watering: Container-grown Forsythia requires regular watering, as containers can dry out more quickly than garden beds. Check the soil moisture frequently, and water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Be cautious not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot.
- Fertilizing: Feed your container-grown Forsythia with a slow-release fertilizer or a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks during the growing season to provide essential nutrients.
- Pruning: Follow the same pruning guidelines as for in-ground Forsythia, ensuring the plant maintains a healthy, compact shape and produces abundant blooms.
- Winter care: Depending on your climate, you may need to provide extra protection for your container-grown Forsythia during the winter months. Options include moving the container to a sheltered location, wrapping the container in insulation, or sinking the container into the ground to help insulate the roots.
As your Forsythia grows, it may eventually outgrow its container. Monitor the plant for signs of root-bound growth, such as roots circling the container or emerging from the drainage holes. When it’s time to repot, choose a larger container and fresh potting mix to provide your Forsythia with the space and nutrients it needs to thrive.
Grow Forsythia in containers for limited spaces or added color. Select large containers with drainage holes and use well-draining potting mix. Regularly water, fertilize, and prune container-grown Forsythia. Provide winter care and repot when root-bound, using a larger container and fresh potting mix.
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.
Forsythias may experience knobby galls and fungal twig blights, both caused by fungi. Address these issues by removing affected twigs or branches, pruning, and applying fungicides. Bugs sucking on leaves are harmless and only affect appearance.
Indoor Forsythia Blooms: A Touch of Spring
Forsythia branches can be coaxed into blooming indoors to create delightful arrangements that will brighten up your home. This can be done any time during the winter months. The indoor warmth encourages the buds to open, offering you a vibrant, spring-like bouquet.
To bring the cheer of forsythia blossoms indoors, follow these simple steps:
- Select and Cut Branches: To begin, select 3-4 branches with numerous buds, cut them to around 12 inches in length, and remove any buds that would be submerged in water, as this helps prevent decay.
- Prepare the Vase: To preserve the freshness of your forsythia arrangement, make sure to change the water every few days, which will also help prevent bacterial growth.
- Maintain Freshness: Change the water every few days to keep it fresh and prevent bacterial growth.
- Enjoy the Blooms: The flowers may take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to open, depending on factors like indoor temperature and light exposure. Once they do, you’ll be able to savor the cheerful blossoms of the forsythia plant in the comfort of your own home!
Encourage indoor Forsythia blooms during winter by cutting 3-4 branches with numerous buds. Remove submerged buds, place in a vase, and change water every few days. Blooms appear in days to weeks, depending on temperature and light exposure.
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.
How fast does Forsythia grow?
Forsythia is known for its rapid growth rate. Depending on the variety, it can grow between 1 to 2 feet per year. Dwarf varieties tend to have a slower growth rate, while larger varieties may grow even faster.
Why isn’t my Forsythia blooming?
There could be several reasons why your Forsythia isn’t blooming:
- Insufficient sunlight: Forsythia requires full sun to produce abundant blooms. Ensure your plant receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily.
- Improper pruning: Pruning at the wrong time of year can remove flower buds, resulting in fewer blooms. The best time to prune Forsythia is right after it has finished blooming.
- Nutrient deficiency: A lack of essential nutrients can affect flowering. Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to provide the necessary nutrients.
Can I grow Forsythia indoors?
While it is possible to grow Forsythia indoors, it is not ideal, as the plant requires a significant amount of sunlight and space to thrive. However, you can bring branches indoors to force blooms, creating a lovely indoor arrangement.
Is Forsythia toxic to pets?
Forsythia is not considered toxic to pets, such as dogs and cats. However, it’s always a good idea to discourage your pets from chewing on plants, as even non-toxic plants can cause digestive upset when ingested in large quantities.