Forsythia is a small genus of 11 species of flowering plants that are commonly referred to as golden bells. These deciduous shrubs belong to the Oleaceae botanical family, which has around 700 members and also includes privets and lilacs. Most members of this family produce numerous and extremely fragrant flowers, and forsythia is no exception.
Forsythia is, however, most famous for its stunning and abundant yellow, four-lobed flowers that bloom at the very beginning of the spring. Some of the most treasured species within this genus include Forsythia x intermedia ‘Sunrise’, Forsythia x intermedia ‘Meadowlark’, and Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’. Some types of forsythia are sprawling, while others are surprisingly compact. This ultimately means that no matter your ornamental preferences, there will be a cultivar that appeals to you.
These fast-growing and dense shrubs are often planted to create foundation beds, but can also make for wonderful informal hedges. The fact that forsythia is an affordable garden plant that is additionally easy to take care of makes it a popular choice. Forsythia shrubs can tolerate diverse climate conditions as well.
- Forsythia is a genus of deciduous flowering shrubs that belong to the olive family. The graceful long branches of the forsythia plant give rise to beautiful yellow flowers that bloom during the spring.
- Most species of forsythia are native to eastern Asia, while one is native to southeast Europe. Because of this, forsythia thrives in temperate climate conditions, although these hardy shrubs do tolerate cooler temperatures quite well. Asian forsythia was first introduced to Europe in the 1700s, by botanist Carl Peter Thunberg, whose connections with the famous Dutch East India Company promptly allowed the Asian shrubs to be spread far and wide into Europe.
- Forsythia species are a great choice for people who are hoping to establish pollinator gardens, too, because bees and butterflies love these charming shrubs! If you introduce forsythia to your garden, you can expect it to be abuzz with insect life, which will in turn attract plenty of birds during the spring.
- Forsythia plants are also commonly referred to as “golden bells” because their pretty yellow flowers resemble golden bells. Because they bloom right as the spring starts, these bells can also be said to be ushering in the new growing season.
- Did you know that the forsythia genus was named for William Forsyth, the eighteenth-century Scottish botanist who was a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK?
- Various forsythia have traditionally been used in folk medicine, and forsythia fruit is still used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to cure headaches, fevers, sore throats, and sore muscles to this day.
- People who love forsythia’s beautiful yellow flowers but are not fans of upright shrubs may want to know that one cultivar, Forsythia suspensa, features graceful weeping vines. This particular variety can be trained to grow on a trellis.
- Forsythia shrubs are, unfortunately, vulnerable to two common diseases — knobby galls, which are tumor-like growths caused by a bacterial infection, and fungal twig blight. People growing forsythia in their gardens should be familiar with the appearance of both, and promptly remove any stems impacted by these conditions if they spot their presence.
- Animal lovers who would like to brighten up their gardens will be happy to hear that forsythia shrubs are not toxic to dogs, cats, or horses.
Forsythia Features: An Overview
- Golden bells, or forsythia plants, are hardy deciduous shrubs that generally grow upright, forming long arching branches. Most species have dark brown bark, and produce beautiful, deep green, simple leaves that have an elongated shape and grow in an alternating pattern.
- Forsythia flower blossoms can range from a pale to a very deep, almost orange, yellow. These flowers have four petals and can be half an inch to an inch in length.
- Forsythia bushes are famous for being extraordinarily fast growers — these charming shrubs can gain 24 inches — or 61 centimeters — in just one year!
- It is important to keep in mind that forsythia isn’t a single species, but an entire genus. Some forsythia shrubs grow quite tall, while others are extremely compact and suitable for smaller gardens. On the whole, however, forsythia or golden bell shrubs tend to grow to be around two to 10 feet tall and two to 10 feet wide. That translates to half a meter to three meters tall, and half a meter to three meters wide.
- The golden bell does best in moist soil that is slightly acidic, and these shrubs prefer more humid conditions. Their prolific nature makes golden bell shrubs a very popular option for people who are interested in growing living privacy walls. Don’t think that you have to commit to a whole arrangement of forsythia shrubs, though, because the more compact members of the forsythia can make for wonderful accent plants, which will add a splash of yellow to your garden during the spring, as well.
- If you wish, you can grow forsythia plants in a container garden. In this case, you will want to prune the plants to impede their growth.
- While forsythia’s eye-catching flowers are undoubtedly their most well-known feature, the blooms have a beautiful, mild, honey-like scent as well.
Forsythia shrubs are fairly easy to take care of, so long as they grow in the right conditions. These are versatile plants that have become adapted to a range of climates, but before you choose to plant forsythia in your garden, you should keep a few things in mind.
Golden bell shrubs strongly prefer direct sunlight, although these shrubs appreciate some partial shade in the afternoons as well. Your forsythia plants should be placed in a location where they will consistently get a minimum of six hours of bright sunlight every day. Although your forsythia will almost certainly survive if you place it in a shadier location, you will miss out — in these conditions, golden bell shrubs will not be able to produce nearly as many flowers!
These plants will perform best in temperatures ranging between 12 and 21 °C (55 and 70 °F). They don’t necessarily appreciate being exposed to freezing temperatures for prolonged periods of time — golden bell shrubs will protest against an especially cold winter by failing to bloom as abundantly.
- LIGHT: Forsythia bushes grow best with at least six hours of direct sun on most days. If your plant gets less sun than this, it might not produce as many flowers.
- SOIL: Forsythias prefer loose, well-draining soil—however, these tough plants show tolerance for clay soil, too. They are not particularly picky about their pH levels.
- TALL: Grows up to 2–10 ft. tall, 2–10 ft. wide.
- BLOOM PERIOD: Fill with brilliant yellow blooms early in the spring.
- USES: Perfect as a specimen plant, for foundations or hedges, in mixed borders, on banks or slopes. Great for city gardens, or cottage gardens.
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Forsythia needs a well-draining soil, which can be acidic or neutral, and even slightly alkaline. These plants cope fairly well with periods of drought and, once mature, they will even thrive in nutrient-poor soil, as long as they have access to plenty of bright sunlight.
As low-maintenance shrubs, golden bells don’t need to be fertilized very often to grow into healthy and strong plants. Young forsythia plants actually should not be fertilized at all, but established shrubs can be fed granular fertilizer once in a while, during their growth periods in the spring and summer.
If you would like your forsythia shrubs to remain compact or to attain a particular shape, they won’t mind a little pruning now and again. Forsythia has gained a reputation as a “wild” plant, though, and many people like to nurture that view by simply allowing their golden bell shrubs to grow as they want to. This can result in an unruly, natural, look that many gardeners actively welcome.
Although the different members of the forsythia genus share many commonalities, especially in terms of the care they need to thrive, gardeners who are considering planting golden bells do need to know that the individual species and cultivars significantly vary in appearance. Have a look at all your options before planting one, or multiple different, forsythia species in your garden to feast your eyes but keep the neighbors’ prying eyes at bay, attract wildlife, and help with erosion control.
Some of the more common species of the forsythia plant or golden bell — all uniquely beautiful in their own right — are:
- Forsythia x intermedia ‘Kolgold’ — This variety grows to be about four to five feet tall (a meter and a half tall). The flowers of this forsythia are bigger than most and are about an inch wide.
- Forsythia ‘Courtasol’ — This is a much smaller variation of the shrub, only ever reaching about one to two inches (five centimeters) tall and one to four inches (10 centimeters) wide and growing numerous flowers. These are dwarf shrubs.
- Forsythia x ‘New Hampshire Gold’ — This bush is a rather hardy shrub compared to some of the other species of forsythia or golden bell. They also change to a pretty red in the fall.
- Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’ — The Lynwood variety has bigger flowers than a lot of golden bell species, and even turns very beautiful yellow with purple with purple hints!
Golden bell bushes favor moderately moist soil, which should not become waterlogged and must, as such, be able to drain well. Some forsythia species tolerate clay soil very well, too. Established forsythia shrubs can cope with periods of drought, and should only be offered supplemental water if you live in an area that does not receive much rain, or it hasn’t rained in a few weeks.
Young forsythia plants do need regular watering, on the other hand. Offering your young forsythia two inches (5 centimeters) of water a week will help them grow into strong and healthy mature shrubs.
Do you have an established forsythia shrub in your garden already, and would you like to add a whole bunch more? You’d be advised to choose between two approaches to propagating forsythia — you can propagate forsythia through cuttings, or you can choose layering to propagate forsythia.
To propagate forsythia from cuttings, just follow these steps any time during the early to mid summer season:
- Take a four to 10 inch (25 cm) cutting from the stem of an established and mature forsythia shrub that has finished blooming for the season and on which leaves have appeared, selecting a strong and healthy branch.
- Next, remove the leaves toward the bottom of the forsythia cutting you have just taken, making sure to liberate at least two inches (5 centimeters) of bare stem.
- The forsythia cuttings you take should be potted in a previously moistened sand, perlite, and peat moss mixture, in a pot that drains well.
- Rooting hormone is not necessary for your forsythia cuttings to begin rooting. Contrary to many types of cuttings, forsythia cuttings do not need to be covered with a plastic covering either.
- Once you have planted your golden bell cuttings, they will need to be lightly misted once a day for roots to begin to take hold. This process will take at least 30 days, after which you can assess how successful the process has been by tugging on the new forsythia very lightly. The presence of any resistance indicates that roots have began to grow.
- Keep your young forsythia plants in pots, in a protected area, for a few seasons before you transplant them to your garden. They will not need to be fertilized during this time.
Another way to propagate forsythia is through layering. This is the lazy gardener’s approach. Simply find a nice healthy branch on an established golden bell shrub planted in an area where you would welcome additional forsythia bushes. Bend the branch, not quite snapping it, and bury at least one node below ground, after removing the bark below and above the node. Now weigh the branch down with a heavy object. You can wait for roots to begin taking hold, which should take around a month. If the process is successful, you can sever the branch from the parent forsythia shrub. If desired, the new plant can be transplanted to a different location.
Forsythia is a genus of beautiful but hardy and prolific shrubs that are famous for producing an abundance of beautiful yellow flowers during the early spring. Gardeners can use forsythia to attract bees, butterflies, and other insects, or to create a privacy hedge. These shrubs are adapted to a wide variety of conditions and can thrive in any temperate climate where they receive plenty of sun.