My sister Cindy was born in March. And every spring when the forsythia bloomed, we celebrated with a family-coined phrase. Our mother would say: These are for-Cynthia. My sister would puff up with pride and it wasn’t long before she started gravitating towards the color yellow. I’ll never forget the canary carpet she insisted on having in the 1970s.
Although I was secretly jealous that a flower blossomed especially for my sister, I grew to welcome the arrival of the sunny blooms. In my mind, forsythia is forever linked to my sister, to March and the happy return of warm weather.
Forsythia belongs to the olive family, Oleaceae. It is grown primarily for its vibrant flowers that emerge from bare branches before the leaves in early spring.
Given there are so many of them, it’s hard to focus on one individual flower. But, if you look closely, you’ll notice each bloom consists of four small petals joined together at the base. Depending on the variety, its color can range from pale to deep yellow.
Flowers are formed of four small petals.
Forsythia flowers usually persist for two to three weeks, happily coinciding with many daffodil species. And if you can’t wait until spring, it’s easy to force their branches indoors. (Click here to see how.)
As they fade, the blossoms are replaced by bright green foliage. Depending on the variety, the leaves may turn a mixture of yellow and purple in fall. The shrub gradually recedes into the landscape while quietly gearing up for next year’s big spring show.
THE TOP TEN FORSYTHIA VARIETIES
Most of the popular forsythia varieties today are forms of the hybrid Forsythia x intermedia, a cross between two Chinese species, Forsythia suspensa and Forsythia viridissima. These were the first species brought to the west from the Far East in the early 1800s.
Forsythia suspensa, commonly known as Weeping forsythia, is still widely sold in nurseries. Large-sized with distinctive, pale-yellow flowers, it is tough and reliable. And its weeping habit makes it an excellent hedging plant.
F. suspensa is known for its cascading blossoms.
But it is Forsythia x intermedia, commonly known as Golden Bells, that has the bright yellow flowers most commonly associated with the species. Bred in 1880, it has hardy, upright stems and comes in many different shapes and sizes.
If you’re looking to create a hedge, for instance, I recommend using the large-sized cultivars Arnold Giant, Lynwood Gold, Karl Sax and Spectabilis. They’ll naturally reach heights of 8 feet or more.
Large-sized Forsythia x intermedia ‘Arnold Giant’ is great for hedges.
By contrast, the dwarf varieties Arnold Dwarf and Gold Tide are sound bets if you’re looking for a smaller shrub.
Or, if you’re looking for really small, try Golden Peep or Goldilocks. Each has compact branching and stays in bounds up close to the house or planted in a flower border. Both also make great container plants. The slightly larger Sunrise a great choice is you’re also looking for vibrant fall foliage.
Small-sized varieties look great in containers.
WHY ISN’T MY FORSYTHIA BLOOMING?
As a garden designer, I am often asked this question. The answer usually lies in when the shrub was pruned. Forsythias must be pruned directly after they flower. This is before they start setting next year’s buds on what is referred to as ‘last year’s wood.’ If you prune forsythias any time after that, you’ll cut off next year’s flowers.
Less frequently, prolonged periods of unusually cold weather can also negatively affect flowering for the coming season.
That said, all forsythia varieties are fast growing and when left unattended, can easily become leggy. Don’t hesitate to be aggressive when pruning. (I hack mine back by a third every spring right after flowering.) The shrubs will quickly bounce back and push out new growth the following spring.
BEST BLOOMS IN FULL SUN
For the best blooms, plant forsythia varieties in full sun. The shrubs need a minimum of four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day in order to flower. And like most plants, they perform best in well-drained soil.