The days are longer and the sun is higher in the sky with more light and warmth. It’s time to be on the lookout for some of the colorful signs of spring, one of which is the brilliant yellow blossoms of the forsythia.
Forsythia, a deciduous shrub with the long drooping or upright branches, is not native to America nor even Western Europe. Brought back to Scotland from China by plant hunter Robert Fortune in the 1700s, it takes its name from William Forsyth, a Scottish botanist and royal head gardener and founding member of the Royal Horticulture Society.
The flowers of the forsythia are brilliant yellow and bell-shaped with petals joined at the base. In a good year, the blooms extend from the tip all the way to the bottom of the stem. The display can last for three weeks though the flowers cans be killed by the cold. Forsythia can also be forced to bloom indoors by cutting the branches early and putting them in water inside.
The flowers grow on last year’s wood so care must be taken to prune the shrub soon after flowering has ceased. Though the best pruning method is to remove older branches at ground level each year, the shrub has been sheared for a box hedge appearance.
Forsythia grow best in areas where they are not restricted by foundations or confined by other plants. The mature plant of the large cultivars can be 10 feet wide as well as 10 feet tall. Midsize varieties are 5 to 6 feet and dwarf at 18-30 inches. They enjoy fertile well-drained soil and full sun.
Once the flowering season is over, the forsythia has dark green foliage. Interest is provided by the drapery of the stems on the shrub.
Forsythia are easy to propagate. Cuttings taken in early spring root easily. Low hanging branches may take root and the new plant can be moved easily. Some people encourage this rooting by placing a brick or stone on the stem to keep it next to the ground.
Forsythia is a zone five shrub. Blooms are cold hardy to -10 or 15 degrees F and the plant is hardy to -20 or -25 degrees F. In the coldest years, the blooms are sometimes restricted to the area below the snowline.
In Erie County, there are many areas where the forsythia display is usually spectacular. The cooler temperatures along the lake shore often prolong the display. On U.S. 6 hedges of plants can be seen on the eastern side of Mitiwanga and on the eastern approach to Huron. Another area is on Hull Road before Pelton Park Road. These large shrubs provide a brilliant display in late March and April.
We have had a hard cold winter. Hopefully the hardy forsythia made it through and we will soon be encouraged by its brilliant yellow flowers.