Forsythia may be known as a “one-hit wonder,” but it’s probably the showiest of early-blooming spring shrubs. What could be more beautiful on a dark, dreary day than a forsythia in bloom? It’s like a golden ray of sunshine.
Capture that sunshine in a vase by forcing a branch into early bloom indoors. Select a branch with tightly spaced buds and remove the stem. Use a sharp, clean knife to make a long, slanted cut near the base of the branch. Fill vase with cold water, a drop or two of hydrogen peroxide or bleach, insert the branch and set the vase in a sunny window.
It will bloom in a few weeks and may produce roots. If it does, transplant the branch into a container or the garden.
Older forsythia varieties have arching habits and can reach up to 10 feet tall. They can be espaliered — like a fruit tree or climbing rose —against a wall, fence or trellis, grown as hedges, or as specimen and foundation plants.
Forsythia blooms on the previous season’s wood, forming buds throughout summer and fall. Pruning should be done in the spring after the flowers are gone. Snip out older branches at ground level to make room for new shoots. Pruning in summer or fall removes next spring’s blooms.
Spring is a good time to propagate by ground layering. Chose a young, arching branch that is long enough to bend to the ground. Loosen soil beneath the branch. Use a sharp, clean knife to make a small cut on the underside of the branch where it will touch the ground. Anchor it to the ground with a bent wire, then cover it with soil. Keep it watered but not wet. In the fall, dig around the branch to check for roots. If so, remove the “baby” and plant it in a container or protected, sunny place in the landscape.
Forsythia grows fast — usually 1 to 2 feet per year in full to partial sun. Soil should be well-drained. These plants dislike wet feet and newer varieties can adapt to drier locations.
Plant shrubs 4 to 6 feet apart for hedges; otherwise keep in mind the plant size at maturity and give it plenty of space. A spring feeding of 10-10-10 all-purpose slow-release fertilizer is helpful after the plant is established.
One of the best new forsythias is “Show Off” from Proven Winners. It is more compact than older varieties, and every stem is full of blooms from top to bottom. It is deer resistant and stays small so doesn’t require any pruning. “Show Off Sugar Baby” is a sweet-looking, heavily flowered dwarf version of “Show Off.”