11 Species of Forsythia and How to Grow Them!

Eleven Species of Forsythia and How to Grow Them

Forsythia is a genus of deciduous shrub belonging to the olive family, Oleaceae. The genus contains eleven different species. Most are native to Asia, with the exception of a single European species. Forsythia is prized by gardeners for its bright yellow early springtime blooms which signal the arrival of warmer weather and sunnier days to come after the long, bleak winter. They are low maintenance, tough, and hardy even in extreme climates, meaning they are perfect for both beginner gardeners and experts alike. 

Forsythia takes its name from the eighteenth-century Scottish botanist and founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society, William Forsyth. Often, they are grown as standalone shrubs, offering a stunning early-season centrepiece to the garden, but the fast, dense growth habit of Forsythia is also well suited to hedgerows. If left to their own devices, Forsythia can reach heights of up to ten feet tall, and some can spread even wider still, however, there are several varieties of smaller dwarf cultivars available to suit more compact spaces. 

All varieties of Forsythia display the characteristic yellow flowers, however, the shade and size of the blooms vary between species. Most Forsythia flowers are made up of four delicate petals. The flowers arrive well before the foliage, meaning their sunny beauty is unobstructed by leaves. After blooming, the flowers will die off and the foliage which emerges is a glossy, true green which often fades to a purplish colour in the autumn, before dropping in the winter.

What does Forsythia Symbolise?

What does Forsythia Symbolise

It’s not difficult to see why Forsythias are often thought to symbolise positivity. Their cheerful yellow blooms are reminiscent of the bright summer sun, and bring a ray of hope after a dark winter, symbolising excitement, anticipation, hope, and warmth. 

Because of their early spring blooms, Forsythias are often associated with Easter, and are sometimes known as the ‘Easter Tree’. 

Forsythia Facts

forsythia facts

Forsythias, particularly their nut-like fruits, have been used in traditional herbal medicine for millennia to treat a variety of ailments, from headaches to fevers, to high blood pressure. New research suggests that Forsythia may also possess antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. It is considered to be one of the 50 fundamental herbal ingredients in Chinese herbology. 

Forsythia stems are used to make the bows for a Korean stringed instrument known as the ajaeng.

Bees and butterflies love Forsythia as it provides an excellent early source of nectar for pollinators, so if you’re looking to encourage spring wildlife into your garden, Forsythia is the perfect plant for you! 

In wet weather, Forsythia petals turn downwards, shielding their pollen from the rain so there’s plenty for pollinators to collect in dry weather.  

How to Plant Forsythia

How to Plant Forsythia

The best time of year to plant Forsythia is either during the spring (March to April) or during early autumn (September to October). They can be grown either from seed, from propagation, or from young container-grown plants purchased at garden centres or nurseries. 

Seed

Seeds can be collected from the seed pods on mature shrubs and dried out, or they can be purchased in packets. You should sow the seeds indoors in a seed tray during the early autumn when the cooler winter temperatures will break their dormancy. Use a seedling or young plant potting mix, don’t press too firmly on the soil as this can stop the seed from germinating. Keep the potting mix lightly moist until the spring, when young shoots should appear. Allow the seedlings to acclimatise in pots outdoors, before planting them in the ground during early spring.

You can also plant the seeds straight outdoors, which is best done in early autumn. Make sure they are in a sheltered position where seedlings will receive at least four hours of sunlight per day.

Propagation – Layering

Propagation by layering the branches of mature plants works best in species with flexible branches, such as Suspensa. During spring or autumn, select a healthy, established branch that can be easily manipulated to reach the ground, and secure it to the earth using wire, ensuring the branch makes plenty of contact with the soil. Keep the surrounding soil lightly moist until the brach begins to root. It can take six months or even longer before a strong root system is established. Once the roots are strong, the branch can be severed from the parent plant, and it will continue to grow into a new shrub. You can dig up the new shrub and move it to a new location if desired. 

Propagation – Cuttings 

To propagate from cuttings, snip healthy sections of stem around four to ten inches long from the mother plant after the flowers have died and foliage has emerged. Remove the leaves from around two inches of the bottom of the stem, and place this end into pots of moist potting mix with plenty of organic matter. You may even want to add rooting hormone. Keep the pot covered with a clear plastic lid (a drinks bottle cut into two will work) and keep the soil evenly and lightly moist for a month or two, until roots begin to form. Once the root system has been established, you can transfer your young shrub to a sheltered position in the garden. 

Container Grown

If you purchase a young container-grown Forsythia, it’s best to transplant it to a ground-dwelling position. Although some retailers and growers advise that they can be left to grow in the pots, they tend not to thrive, as their vigorous root system needs plenty of space to spread out. Container-grown Forsythias can be planted out at any time of year, but avoid planting in extreme weathers such as frosts or droughts.

When selecting a young Forsythia from a nursery, choose a plant with dense but evenly spaced branches. Avoid any plants which are showing signs of pests or disease, and any plants with weak or broken stems. 

How to Grow

How to Grow forsythia

Where and how you choose to grow your Forsythia will depend on its purpose. Standalone shrubs can be planted almost anywhere so long as they receive enough light. Forsythias intended for hedgerows will need to be planted accordingly, and you can even train Forsythia to climb up a trellis. 

Hedge 

Forsythias make excellent hedges due to their dense growth habit and vigorous growth speed. For a tall hedge, choose a robust upright variety such as Arnold Giant. For smaller hedges and borders, chose varieties with a more compact growth habit such as Fiesta. Young plants should be placed between three and four feet apart from one another, but the spacing is flexible depending on how dense you want your hedge to be. 

Trellis

Softer stemmed varieties, such as the weeping Forsythia Suspensa can be trained to climb a supporting wall, archway, or trellis. Simply plant the young shrub in the ground near to a supporting structure, and tie the stems to the frame loosely as they grow to produce the shape you desire. 

Soil 

Forsythias are very tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, though they prefer loose, well-draining soil. The only soil condition that Forsythia really can’t abide by is waterlogged ground. If your soil is very heavy, clay-like, or prone to holding excess water, consider adding extra drainage material like gravel or compost to prevent the area around your Forsythia from becoming oversaturated. 

They aren’t particularly fussy about pH levels either and will flourish in anything from mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soils. 

Light 

Forsythia is a sun-loving shrub and needs around six hours of sunlight per day. They can tolerate some shade, but too little sunlight will cause their blooms to become stunted and misshapen, or they may not even bloom at all. 

Water

Forsythias are extremely drought tolerant. They won’t usually require any additional watering once they mature as the natural rainwater cycle should be sufficient for their deep roots to seek out moisture deep within the soil. Younger shrubs will need slightly more water for the first couple of years until their roots become more established. 

Once mature, you will only need to water your Forsythia during very dry, hot periods. Forsythia prefers a deep soaking weekly, rather than more regular but lighter waterings. If the foliage on your Forsythia becomes shrivelled, it’s a sign that it needs a drink. 

Temperature and Humidity

Forsythias are particularly frost-hardy and can tolerate temperatures of -18°C. If the temperature drops very low for prolonged periods over the winter, you may notice fewer flowers the following year. 

These shrubs prefer a slightly humid climate. They may not flower in very dry conditions, although very humid conditions can cause their flowers to wilt. 

Food

Forsythias are not particularly hungry shrubs, so don’t need much food. The best time to feed them is in the spring after they have been pruned to stimulate new growth. A well-balanced, all-purpose fertiliser will be sufficient. In fertile soil, they won’t really require any food at all. You should avoid feeding your Forsythia until it’s at least a year old. 

Pruning 

Forsythias are fast-growing shrubs, and can grow up to a foot per year! Because of this, they will need regular pruning to keep them looking neat and tidy. If left unpruned, they will develop dense, unruly growth higher up with bare stems at the base, and the spring flowers will be stunted and sparse. 

To keep the foliage uniform throughout the entire shrub, you should prune in mid to late spring, after the blooms have died back, and repeat annually. Remove dead stems from the base to encourage new stems to grow, and thin out crowded stems at the centre of the shrub. Avoid pruning later in the year as this will hinder the next spring’s blooms.  

Hedgerow Forsythias should be pruned in the same way, but take care to maintain the desired shape and height of your hedge. Young Forsythias shouldn’t be pruned for the first two to three years whilst they establish strong stems. 

Of course, you can forgo the pruning if you prefer a wilder, more natural look, although your forsythia will bloom more abundantly if it is pruned semi-regularly. Dwarf varieties tend not to need pruning so are a great low-maintenance option.

Disease

Despite being fairly hardy, Forsythia is prone to blight, where the foliage and ends of low branches begin to die off, revealing black fungus inside the stems. Affected branches should be removed and disposed of at the first sign of illness. You should avoid overwatering your Forsythia, as this can encourage fungal disease. 

Galls are another common affliction in Forsythia, where the branches develop unsightly, knobbly growths. There is no cure, but affected branches should be removed and disposed of, or burned. 

Overwinter

Because it is so hardy, Forsythia doesn’t require any extra care over the winter. They are deciduous so will lose their foliage during the late autumn and winter, and their leaves won’t return until after it blooms in the spring. 

Varieties of Forsythia

Varieties of Forsythia

Now you know all there is to know about growing and caring for your Forsythia, let’s take a closer look at a few of the different varieties which are sure to brighten up your garden after a long, bleak, winter!

Arnold Dwarf is, as its name suggests, a dwarf variety with a maximum height of just three feet. Its small size makes it the perfect choice for an early-blooming ground cover shrub.

Beatrix Ferrand is a tall upright variety, with long, arching branches. They can reach ten feet tall, with a spread of up to twelve feet, so this variety is best suited to a larger garden unless you’re prepared for plenty of pruning! 

Goldilocks is a dwarf variety, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in blooms, providing abundant flowers in mid-spring. Its small size means it requires less pruning and maintenance than standard varieties. 

Gold Tide is another dwarf variety that usually only reaches around two feet in height, but with a spread of up to five feet, it is the perfect shrub for low maintenance ground cover. 

Karl Sax is an upright variety of Forsythia, which blooms slightly later than other varieties. This is a great choice if you want your sunshine-hued blooms to last until later in the spring. 

Lynwood boasts large, showy flowers, with a vigorous and dense growth habit that lends itself perfectly to hedgerows. Its foliage takes on a faint purple hue in the autumn. 

Meadowlark is another tall Forsythia cultivar, growing up to ten feet tall. This is perfect if you want plenty of privacy from your hedgerow. Meadowlark is also incredibly resistant to pests and diseases. 

Northern Gold is one of the most frost-hardy shrubs around, able to tolerate temperatures of -34°C! Opt for this variety if you live in a particularly cold or windy location. It has a dense, upright growth habit. 

Ovata is a fast-growing, early flowering variety that is native to Korea. It has a dense, compact growth habit with an abundance of small flowers. 

Sunrise is a variety of forsythia with a compact growth habit, usually reaching between four and six feet tall. It is one of the hardiest varieties, able to withstand colder temperatures than most other Forsythias, making it a great choice for gardeners in northern climates. 

Suspensa is a unique trailing variety of Forsythia, with a growth habit reminiscent of a weeping willow. Its soft, flexible branches are perfect for training around trellises and archways. They also look beautiful when trained to cascade over a wall or fence. 

FAQs

faqs

Does Forsythia bear fruit?

Forsythias produce hard, brown, nut-like fruits, which contain their seeds. They won’t bear fruit until fully mature, at least five years of age. Although they are members of the Olive family, Forsythia fruits are not edible!

Can I grow Forsythia indoors?

Forsythia cannot be grown successfully indoors as they need plenty of space to spread. Cut stems can be arranged in a vase for a pretty indoor floral arrangement to cheer up your home during spring. 

Why isn’t my Forsythia Blooming?

Lack of pruning or incorrect pruning is the most common cause of Forsythia not blooming. They may also be reluctant to bloom if they aren’t receiving enough sunlight.

How long does Forsythia bloom for?

Forsythia has a relatively short blooming period, usually lasting around three to four weeks. But what they lack in longevity, they more than make up for in colour!

Conclusion

Conclusion

Forsythias are without doubt one of the most low-maintenance shrubs you can grow. Once established, you will barely have to tend your Forsythia other than the occasional prune, and you will be rewarded year on year with its vivid blooms. With so many bold, bright varieties to choose from, it’s hard to resist bringing a little early-season sunshine into your garden in the form of a Forsythia!

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