Forsythia, true harbinger of spring

By Stephanie Hughes

OSU Extension master gardener volunteer

Along with the red-winged blackbird, one of the true harbingers of spring in Ohio is the forsythia. This member of the olive family has many hybrids originating from the cross of Forsythia suspense (a weeping habit) and Forsythia viridissima (green stem), from which we get many varieties of this easy-care, beautiful, large shrub.

Due to their ancestry from Asia, we can see the gentle-flowing habit of many of our current species. They are hardy with few problems and can be forced indoors to bloom as early as January or February. Before it blooms, simply bring in cuttings, place in water, and in 10 days (or less as bloom time gets closer), you will have the bright yellow flowers on stems to bring spring into your home.

As well, you can take new, green wood in early summer to yield cuttings, and low-hanging boughs will freely root for new plantings. They are long-lived and rapid growers, so be sure to plant them in an area suited for this up-to-10-feet shrub. There are new cultivars that will stay shorter. Be sure to read the plant tag and do some research before choosing the right-sized plant for your space.

Early in spring (depending on weather, and especially, freezing temperatures), buds break forth into 1 º-1 Ω-inch ruffled flowers on naked stalks. Leaves appear later. The creamy yellow to bright yellow blooms grow on last year’s wood, so pruning is important. Only prune in spring, so fall buds for next year can set. After winters such as last year, the extreme subzero temperatures can kill the flower buds and prevent spring bloom. Depending on the variety, buds are killed at minus 10‚∞degrees to minus 30 — another good reason to read the plant tag.

Do not shear as a hedge (rounded or square), but cut from the base of the oldest branches to maintain the cascade effect. Selective pruning will ensure this shrub makes your home look like spring well before spring arrives at your neighbor’s house. You can cut these shrubs back to the ground to produce all new growth, but all you will get for a couple of years is lush green leaves with no flowers.

Forsythia likes fertile, well-drained soil, but will tolerate nearly any location. Make sure there’s plenty of room for them to branch out, as they love to be in full sun. Generally, they do not require extra fertilization.

To read more about these beautiful shrubs and to choose a variety for your location, visit

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