(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 26, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please note this author passed away and cannot respond to any questions.)
Forsythia. What a strange name for this beautiful plant of the Oleaceae (Olive) family. Nonetheless, Forsythia is a welcome sight as it signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring. When I lived in New York, Forsythia bushes gave me hope that even if winter clung to the brown earth, brown trees and grey skies, spring and summer were humming just around the corner. As a result, I loved Forsythia, a shrub that is also called either golden bells or yellow bells. They are one of the first plants to wake up each spring and the cheery yellow blossoms are often the only spot of color in an otherwise dreary landscape.
Over the years, I have planted a Forsythia shrub at each of my homes because I needed the bright sunshine yellow of the flowers as a promise to my soul that the cold of winter was almost over. I love looking out a window to gaze upon the sunny Forsythia even on a cloudy day. During the summer and fall months, the Forsythia is simply a boring (although overgrowing) shrub with basic small medium green leaves. It isn't a host plant for butterflies and it produces no berries or fruits to attract wildlife. This Asian native is simply a pretty face to banish winter.
This lovely shrub blooms on previous years growth so do not make the same mistake as I did a few years ago. I pruned my Forsythia late in the summer. As a result, I cut off the new growth for that year and the following spring was a disappointment. I really do not like the unruly mess of spreading branches that are typical the rest of the year. However, the profusion of bright yellow sunshine bursting forth from dead twigs more than pays for the overgrowth later. So, the flowerless springs were dull and I wondered why as I noticed that others Forsythia shrubs were promising the arrival of spring. After researching Forsythias, I found out that it was my fault for cutting off the growth that produces flowers. If you must prune your forsythia, do so right after the flowers fade. This will give the plant plenty of time to produce new growth and flower buds for the next spring. Many people make the mistake of pruning this shrub into boxwood-like squares, forsythias should retain a natural shape of arching stems to show it off in the best way possible.
My neighbors do not always like my Forsythia bushes. Eleven years ago, I planted a bush just inside my property line. In the spring, my neighbor mowed it down. She was half blind and quite proud of herself for trimming up the area. I explained to her that was my prized Forsythia bush. She explained to me that she was allergic to Forsythia but she apologized nonetheless. I believe that my neighbors in my current house probably sprayed my Forsythia with weedkiller last year. Parts of it shriveled and died. I did not say anything because I had let the shrub overgrow without proper trimming and the branches grew into their yard. Perhaps this spring, after the flowers are simply memories, I will remember to trim the bush before the current year's growth begins. I cannot bear for my Forsythia to be flowerless in spring.
Because this shrub has a habit of growing different directions like a massive amounts of fly-away hair, it easily disguises ugly areas, including utility power meters. The shrub is easy going which translates into easy growing. With my busy schedule, I do not have time to diaper and bottle feed many plants so I appreciate easy growing. Forsythia is also very easy to root and share; you can either layer a branch in the dirt and allow it to grow roots before trimming it from the bush or snip and stick (snip off a branch and stick it in the ground. You can do this in late winter or early spring before the plant starts budding out and roots will form as the plant breaks dormancy. Keep it wet and it has a good chance of growing roots.) From my experience, Forsythia does not set seed.
The pleasing brightness of the early yellow or sometimes golden flowers makes me think that every yard should be blessed with a Forsythia shrub or two. The Forsythia is not finicky about its soil or its growth. It does, however, like the sun. Perhaps it is storing up the sunshine during the summer so it can spoil you with joyous splashes of sunshine energy in the early spring. Let the chorus of golden yellow Forsythia flowers play a happy spring tune for you as your soul rejoices that spring is on its way.
Images courtesy of PlantFiles