Forsythia has to be one of the most well known plants. Heck, I’ll bet it’s right up there with Christmas trees and roses.
Forsythia actually makes me think of childhood. Probably because it was what we saw when the weather first started to get warm and we could play more outside.
Although Forsythia is not a plant I use frequently, it does have its place and use in the landscape.
Up close (and especially when leafless), they tend to look a little “helter skelter”. Dare I say ratty?
However, from a distance (and especially in leaf) they do have a pleasing mounded form.
How Do Forsythias Operate?
The two types of forsythia you’re most likely to see are Forsythia intermedia (Border Forsythia) and Forsythia suspensa (Weeping Forsythia).
Border Forsythia has a broad rounded shape when it gets older (presuming it doesn’t get annihilated by a power shear, of course). It can get up to 10′ high and equally wide if given the space and license.
Weeping Forsythia is a bit different from Border Forsythia. It has more of a spreading look about it with long trailing branches. It too can get 10′ wide; maybe not quite as tall.
Both have the trademark trait of flowering yellow in early spring (around early April here in the Northeast). Weeping Forsythia, however, does not have as rich a color or profusion of flower as Border Forsythia.
Forsythia are not finicky and will adapt to most conditions. I have seen Forsythia bothered by spider mite when the plant becomes drought stressed. They flower and grow best in sunny locations.
A well-established plant will push out some suckers around its base; you could, therefore, call it a “colonizing” plant.
Basically, Forsythia is not meant to be pruned. If pruning is necessary because its growing out of its space or its getting a little too “wild and woolly,” here are 2 strategies:
- Because Forsythia bloom on “old wood,” you must prune soon after flowering in the spring. Selective pruning with a hand pruner works great on cutting back aggressive branching. If you really need to get the beast under control, you can cut the entire plant back as far as you want – it will “rejuvenate”.
- Another technique is to go inside the plant and prune out the oldest, heaviest stems leaving the younger.
Note: Early spring, right after flowering and before the leaves come out, is the best time to do any of this pruning/rejuvenating work on Forsythia.
So, Should You Use Forsythia?
We’ve all heard the adage “use the right plant in the right spot”. Using Forsythia off in a distant border planting with plenty of room to “do its thing” is fine. Another use is on a large slope where there’s an expansive area to plant. Here the fountain-like branching of Weeping Forsythia could work well; the “colonizing” suckers would help stabilize the slope.
Oh, and let’s not forget Forsythia’s claim to fame, that gorgeous show of yellow flowers. They’re like the town crier announcing the arrival of spring.