Forsythia is a shrub with brilliant yellow flowers which appear in the early spring, often before any other plants have begun to bloom. The plant can reach immense heights, especially if left untrimmed, and loses all of its leaves in the fall, leading to its classification among the deciduous shrubs. There are numerous species in the forsythia genus, which was named for Scottish botanist William Forsyth.
The shrub is in the olive family, Oleaceae, but it does not strongly resemble its relatives. Forsythia has been cultivated in Asia for hundreds of years, and is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as other traditional healing arts across Asia. The plant is used across the Northern hemisphere in parks and gardens of all sizes, and can be found individually planted or in the form of a formidable hedge.
The flowers of forsythia emerge before the leaves do, and the plant generally only blooms once a year. After the leaves drop, forsythia can look somewhat skeletal, but some gardeners like the look in a fall garden. If left unpruned, forsythia tends to get slightly shaggy and wild, growing all over the place as a sprawling bush. Forsythia can also be tightly pruned to shape. Different gardeners have different opinions on pruning, with some believing that the bushes should be pruned every year, and others suggesting that forsythia never be pruned. Striking a balance somewhere in the middle works for most gardeners.
Depending on the cultivar, forsythia can be hardy all the way through USDA Zone 9. Before planting, always check the hardiness, since some varieties of forsythia prefer more temperate weather, and will not do well above zones four and five. The flowers can also be found under the name “golden bells,” a reference to the drooping star shaped golden flowers, which do look vaguely like bells on the branch. Forsythia should be given a light fertilizer in the spring, and the plant is relatively drought tolerant, making it a good choice for a low water garden.
In addition to looking out for the colorful flowers outdoors in the spring, gardeners can also force forsythia indoors. A branch with a number of buds should be selected for forcing. Within a few days indoors, the buds will start to open, and the forsythia branch may also develop roots. It can be potted and given as a gift, or planted in the garden, if desired.