Forsythia, is a genus of flowering plants in the olive family Oleaceae. There are about 11 species, mostly native to eastern Asia, but one native to southeastern Europe. Forsythia – also one of the plant's common names – is named after William Forsyth. In some regions, the plant may be known as Easter tree and the flowers as yellow bells. In Iran, the plant is known as “yellow Jasmine”.
Forsythia plants are deciduous shrubs. In some species the yellow four-petaled flowers, borne along the stems, appear before the leaves in early spring. The simple narrow leaves occasionally have three parts and are borne oppositely along the pithy or hollow stems. The fruit is usually a capsule. Forsythia symbolizes spring sun and anticipation. No surprise there since it flowers in spring.
Table of Contents
2 - 10 feet
2 - 12 feet
7.0 - 8.0
Growth Nutrition of Forsythia
All-purpose fertilizer with a balance of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium is best, as these three nutrients promote root growth, color and flowering. However, it's also appropriate to use fertilizer that contains higher amounts of phosphorous.
Types of Forsythia
There are many varietals within the forsythia genus, offering different sizes and shapes. The varieties known as 'intermedia' are hybrid plants achieved by crossing weeping forsythia (F. suspensa) and greenstem forsythia (F. viridissima), with traits that are "intermediate" between the two parents. Some of the most common forsythias include:
Forsythia Suspensa, also known as the weeping forsythia, is a common variety of the plant native to Asia. Known for their pale yellow flowers and large size, these shrubs are reliable and tough. The flowers are usually 8 to 10 feet in height, with leaves of about 2-5 inches in length.
Northern Gold Forsythia
This beautiful golden-yellow flower bears the title of the “official harbinger of spring”. The upright-growing Northern Gold blooms early in the spring season before the dark green leaves appear. Growing to a height of 6-8 feet and a width of 5-7 feet, this plant thrives in full sun and moist soil.
The Border Forsythia, also known as “golden bells”, is a medium-sized plant easily recognized in the south. It’s famous for producing vibrant bright yellow flowers. You’re looking at a hybrid between the Green-Stemmed Forsythia and the Weeping Forsythia that can grow in both full sunlight or partial shade. Another great thing about this species is that it is quite noticeable even in twilight because of its eye-catching yellows.
Vermont Sun Forsythia
One of the hardiest varieties around, this one is also known as Forsythia Mandschurica.
The leaves are round in shape and 3 inches in diameter. The sulfur yellow flowers emerge from black buds. The flowers are hardy and deciduous. Blooming starts in early February.
Green Stem Forsythia
This variety is also known as Forsythia Viridissima. A compact deciduous shrub, it can grow to a height of 0.75 to 1 feet and spread to about 2 to 3 feet. The leaves have an elliptic-oblong shape and can grow up to 6 inches long. This plant boasts a low-growing habitat, blooming from March to April. It produces toned-down yellow-colored flowers and can grow in partial shade as well as under the full sun.
Also called Courtacour or Gold Curl Forsythia, this variety is a deciduous shrub and a mutation of the Spring Glory variety. The best soil for these plants is well-drained. In terms of temperatures, don’t worry all that much. This type can survive low temperatures as well.
White forsythia is different from all the other varieties because of its color. It produces rich white flowers, similar in shape and arrangement to those of the common yellow varieties. This flower can sure add a touch of elegance to a garden, whether on its own or in combination with other flowering plants. These flowers also belong to the Oleaceae family and grow to a usual height of 3 to 6 ½ feet. The blooming season is from March to April.
Gold Tide Forsythia
Also called Forsythia Courtasol, this one is a compact perennial border shrub that grows up to 24 inches and spreads about 3-4 feet across. It’s a perfect ground cover type forsythia with some of its branches laying right on the ground. At the onset of the fall season, the flowers take up a gorgeous purplish shade on the outside and turn a pale yellow on the inside. In the early spring season, this plant burst into amazing lemon-yellow flowers like in the image above.
Forsythia x intermedia 'Kolgold'
A shrub that matures at around 4 to 5 feet in height and spread, it sports larger flowers than most forsythia bushes, at roughly 1 inch across.
Forsythia x 'New Hampshire Gold'
An excellent cold-hardy shrub. It grows 4 to 5 feet tall and boasts an attractive red color in the fall.
Arnold Dwarf Forsythia
Known as a remarkable dwarf undercover type of shrub, the Arnold dwarf plant can actually reach up to 2-3 feet in high. It has pale yellow flowers along with crisp green leaves. In addition, it produces lovely dark green foliage, which is transformed into a striking bronze-green color during the fall season.
Lynwood Gold Forsythia
Last but not least, this variety looks beautiful in spring as it puts on a rich show of bright golden blossoms at a height of up to 10 feet. It needs well-grown soil to do well. Other than that, though, it’s not a heavy-maintenance plant. The one fact worth mentioning about it is that as the blooms fade, the flowers take on hues of red and orange that look wonderful against the dark green leaves.
Forsythia x intermedia 'Sunrise'
This compact shrub grows to be between 4 and 6 feet tall and wide. Its flower buds are able to withstand colder winter temperatures than many other forsythia varieties.
Forsythia x intermedia 'Meadowlark'
A varietal that grows around 7 to 10 feet tall with a similar spread, it's known for having very few issues with pests and diseases.
When to Plant Forsythia Bushes
The best time to plant forsythia is in the fall, while the plant is dormant.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
Select a spot in full sun where the shrub will have plenty of room in which to grow and expand. Depending on the cultivar, the shrub may reach up to 10 feet in height and 12 feet in diameter, so plan accordingly—or plan to prune regularly.
Forsythia will adapt to most soils, though they prefer loose, well-draining soil.
They do best in soils with a pH that ranges from about 7.0 to 8.0 (neutral to slightly alkaline).
How to Plant Forsythia Bushes
Dig a hole at least 2 times wider than the root ball.
Make sure that the top of the root ball is at ground level.
Pack the soil firmly around the roots.
Water deeply at the time of planting.
How to Get Forsythia to Bloom
If you find yourself missing out on forsythia's signature bright blooms, there may be a few causes to blame. One of the most common issues for a lack of blooms is improper pruning. Forsythia set bloom on old wood, so any pruning should be done before that happens. Prune immediately after blooming in spring. If you wait until late summer or early fall, you run the risk of pruning off next year's flowers, which will leave you with a rather bare bush for the following season.
Another reason why your forsythia bush may not be blooming adequately is due to a lack of light. Forsythia bushes needs at least six hours of light daily (on average—a few days here or there with less won't be a huge issue). If you have a few pesky bushes that just aren't blooming, take some time to observe how much light your plant gets. If you can, trim back nearby trees that may be blocked the light to allow more sun to reach your bush.
Forsythia bushes are often used as a living privacy wall in the summer and fall after they have fully leafed out. In addition, they can be used for erosion control on slopes and in foundation plantings. The weeping type (Forsythia suspensa) can even be trained to grow as a vine on a trellis or planted behind a retaining wall and allowed to cascade over the side.
Forsythias are fairly tolerant of poor garden soil, and they have some drought tolerance once established. As long as you situate them somewhere that gets a lot of sunlight, they should grow well for you. The biggest burden when growing forsythia is to keep these fast-growing shrubs pruned to maintain the desired shape and size. But even this can be ignored if you like a somewhat wild-looking shrub, as many people do. A natural look can be entirely appropriate for shrub borders alongside wooded areas.
Forsythia bushes grow best with at least six hours of direct sun on most days. If your plant gets less sun than this, it might not produce as many flowers.
Forsythias prefer loose, well-draining soil—however, these tough plants show tolerance for clay soil, too. They are not particularly picky about their pH levels and can thrive in both acidic and alkaline soil blends. Good drainage is important, however, so amend compact soils as needed.
The bushes grow best in moderately moist soil, but they can handle some drought once they're established. Water new forsythia plants regularly (at least 2 inches of water a week) until they're established, then only water if you have an extended period with no rainfall.
Temperature and Humidity
Forsythias prefer slightly humid climates. If it's too dry, they might not flower and if it's too moist, they might wilt. They're happiest when the temperature is between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but they're fairly hardy in colder temperatures as well (however, many varieties do not respond well when winter temperatures fall below minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit). If exposed to prolonged periods of extreme cold, flowering for the following spring may be absent or reduced, though the plant generally recovers and returns to normal flowering a year later. Northern gardeners will want to make sure to choose a variety known to have good hardiness in their climate zone.
Don't fertilize your forsythia bush until it is about a year old and appears to be in good health. At that point, you can spread approximately a cup of granular fertilizer at the shrub's base every few weeks throughout the spring and summer.
Pruning and Propagating Forsythia
If left to their own devices, forsythia bushes can take on a rather wild-looking shape, as branches shoot out in random directions. Many people prefer this wild look, and annual pruning is by no means mandatory. If you're happy with your bush's shape, you can go for several years without pruning.
However, if you like a neater look, you can prune your bush to conform to a more organized shape. Pruning of forsythia bushes is best done just after they have finished blooming in the spring, because the following spring's flowers will bloom on wood produced the previous year. Thus, if you prune past the end of July, you run the risk of losing all the flowers for the following spring. This won't kill the plant, but it means you'll have drab shrubs for a year.
Begin by pruning roughly a quarter to a third of the oldest branches, cutting them right down to the ground. This will encourage new growth and a more compact form. Beyond this "renewal" pruning, you can also selectively cut newer branches to improve upon the overall shape of your forsythia.
Propagating forsythia plants is the best way to multiply your supply, short of heading to a nursery to get more mature plants. The ideal way to propagate forsythia is through a stem cutting in early to mid-summer. Here's how:
Using sharp and clean cutting shears, take a 4- to 10-inch long stem from a mature forsythia plant that has flowered for at least a season. Cuttings should be taken after flowering is completing and when the shrub has leaves.
Remove the bottom leaves, leaving at least two inches of stem exposed at the bottom.
Plant each cutting into a container that's been filled with a moistened mixture of peat moss, perlite, and sand. Bury the stem cut-side down, with at least one node falling beneath the soil line.
Mist the cuttings daily until the roots are about 1 inch in length, which will take at least a month.
Once roots have been established, transplant the cuttings into a larger pot placed in a controlled outdoor environment for one or two seasons before planting it in a garden location.
An even easier way to create new forsythia shrubs is by layering. Find a long branch on the existing shrub, bend it so that a node touches the ground, and gently scrape away the bark above and below the node. Secure the bent branch with a rock so it touches the soil, and wait. Roots should form along the layered branch, and you can then cut the branch from the parent shrub, dig up the rooted branch, and plant in a new location.
Common Plant Diseases
Forsythia shrubs can be prone to knobby galls forming along the stems, as well as fungal twig blights. Both problems are best treated by removing affected stems. Twig blights can be prevented by keeping the plant well pruned to improve air circulation, and by applying a fungicide.
Benefits of Forsythia
After the blossoms of forsythia have gone, in its place will be the fruit – a small, nut-like capsule. These capsules are the part of the plant that contains the seeds. Forsythia capsules are hard, dry structures that split open into two chambers. These fruits develop from the pollinated flowers.
Medicinally, forsythia has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese herbal healing. The fruit, called lian qiao in China, is used internally for chills, fevers, headaches, muscle soreness, and expelling internal parasites, and externally for burns, cuts, scrapes, infections, and rashes.
Forsythia is high in oleanolic acid and is believed to be able to help maintain the heart muscle as well as the ability to help maintain healthy blood pressure.
Additionally, traditional Chinese medicine shows forsythia to have both broad-spectrum antimicrobial and antiinflammatory properties. It is suggested that preparing a tea of young, tender leaves may help with the symptoms of sore throat, diarrhea and flu.
The following are the health benefits attributed to the tea:
May help fight the virus and help relieve colds, fever and cough.
May help in fighting influenza.
May help fight allergies.
May help decrease inflammations.
Believed to help relieve tonsillitis and pharyngitis.
May help improve cholesterol levels.
May help aid cardiovascular functions.
One of the surprising uses for forsythia is as a food source. While forsythia is not particularly nutritious, it does contain rutin, which has strong antioxidant properties, and which protects and prolongs the activity of another important antioxidant – vitamin C.
The flowers and very early leaves are edible and can add a pretty touch when sprinkled over salads or used as a garnish on plated food. They add a simple fancy element to mealtimes.
Another of the uses for forsythia is in skin care products. If you want to use forsythia in skin care preparations later on, then preparing a forsythia infused oil now is a good idea. This oil can be made ahead to have on hand for lotions, creams, soaps, and lotion bars.
Forsythia suspensa is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese herbology. Forsythia sticks are used to bow a Korean string instrument called ajaeng.