In many parts of North America, forsythia are the harbingers of spring. Many highways are planted with this deciduous shrub, and homeowners love their carefree growth and early spring blossoms. The bright golden showers of petals along the arching sprays of forsythia branches seem to shout with joy that winter is finally gone - and spring is here!
Native to Asia, with one species native to Europe, the 11 species of forsythia bloom along flexible stems, with the bell-shaped golden flowers emerging before the leaves. The early spring flowers are much beloved of bees, who often struggle to find nectar sources early in the spring, and the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly likes to hide her cocoons among the boughs of forsythia.
Forsythia grow quickly once established. Plants added to the garden quickly set down vigorous roots. Most species attain a final height of three to 10 feet if they aren’t pruned. They prefer full sun, but also tolerate partial shade.
Most varieties of forsythia look lovely when left to grow in their wild, slightly unkempt state, but if you have forsythia lining the edge of your driveway or yard, you know how quickly the natural look can turn into the crazy-car-scraping-look that annoys the heck out of you every time you pull in and out of your garage. If your forsythia have grown too large for the space where they’re planted or you’d prefer to trim them into a more pleasing shape, follow these tips for pruning forsythia to ensure their health and vigorous blooms the following spring.
- When to prune: The best time to prune forsythia is in the spring, after the plant has finished flowering. Forsythia develop blossoms for the following spring in the fall. Pruning too late in the year, or in the winter before flowering, cuts out most of the flowering branches and may leave you without flowers this year.
- Equipment: Use a pair of sharp pruning shears. Clean the blades with an alcohol wipe. Rubbing alcohol destroys bacteria and other microorganisms that can be spread from plant to plant during pruning in the open wounds or cuts made by the pruning shears.
- How to prune forsythia: It’s best to thin the canes and trim the ends gently rather than try to shape the plant into a ball shape. It’s healthier for the plant if you prune away some of the older canes to allow for better air circulation among the branches. Cut the branches as close to the base of the plant as you can.
Forsythia are fun to propagate, and you can easily grow several more plants from an existing mature hedge.
The best time to propagate forsythia is June and July, when the plant produces vigorous new shoots. Forsythia can be propagate from soft wood cuttings. Look for a new flush of growth among the branches, and choose your cuttings carefully, seeking healthy, vigorous branches.
Clean your pruning shears with alcohol and take several cuttings from among this new growth. Each branch should be at least four to six inches long. Strip off the leaves or pick off the leaves on the lower half of the cutting. Dip the end into rooting hormone, then place the end with the rooting hormone into a pot of rooting medium. You can also use perlite. Several cuttings can be rooted at once in a flat or tray, or use small pots for your propagation experiment.
After inserting the cut end into the pot, firm the soil with your fingers and water it well. Use a clear plastic bag, such as a bag from the produce department of the supermarket, to cover the top of the tray or pot like a dome. This creates a sort of miniature greenhouse to keep the cuttings moist and the humidity high.
Place the covered forsythia cuttings in a bright, sunny spot, but not in direct sunlight. Within six to eight weeks, the cuttings should root, and you’ll see new leaves begin to emerge. At this stage, transfer them to larger containers with sterile potting soil, and continue to nurture them along. Plant them in the fall so that they get a head start on root development for the following spring.
Propagating via Layering
Another popular method of propagating forsythia is through a process called layering. Many plants such as lavender and forsythia develop new roots along the woody stems when the stems touch the ground. You can help this natural habit along and grow a forsythia hedge by using simple layering techniques.
To grow a new forsythia plant by layering, follow these steps:
- Use a mature, healthy forsythia plant as the parent plant. It should have at least one long cane on the side where you wish to grow the new shrub. The cane should naturally reach the ground.
- Layering can be done in the early spring while the plant is dormant or during the late fall.
- Bend the brand to the ground. A sharp bend tends to help the plant root more easily.
- Use a U-shaped landscape staple, the kind use to affix landscape fabric to the ground, or make a U-shaped bracket by cutting a piece of wire from a coat hanger and bending it into shape. Use the bracket to affix the middle of the flexible branch to the ground.
- Cover the portion of the branch touching the ground with soil. You may also wish to use a clean, sterilize knife to make a little wound or two under the side of the branch touching the ground.
- That’s it. Just water it well, and look for new growth near the bend. New growth usually indicates a separate shrub has grown at the bend.
- You can leave the new plant where it is, or transplant it once it has grown several sets of leaves.
Forsythia are one of nature’s joys, and certainly a favorite for many homeowners. The more forsythia, the better, it seems. Grow more by using these two simple propagation methods this year and have fun with forsythia.