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What is Forsythia?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I've had a yellow forsythia for over 15 years. It's always bloomed yellow. I didn't cut it back for the last couple of years - and this year, it's blooming pink! Same bush, nothing different about placement, treatment, etc. What is going on?


I have always loved the bright yellow forsythia flowers in spring, but was looking for something that was a little smaller.

Since I am not the best at gardening maintenance I wanted something I didn't have to worry about pruning back.

I bought some dwarf forsythia and planted them in a row along one side of my house. I still get the beautiful yellow flowers in spring without them getting so tall and out of control.

When fully mature they will be about 3 feet tall. They will be about 6 feet wide and these have been the perfect filler for this area of the house.


I was so anxious for spring one year that I did some experimenting with force blooming some yellow forsythia.

There are many days when the temperature is above freezing for awhile, only to return to the deep freeze again for a few more weeks.

One day when the temperature was above freezing I went outside and cut off some branches from my forsythia shrub and brought them in the house.

I put these branches in a vase on my dining room table. After a few weeks the branches had bright yellow blooms all over them and I had a touch of springtime inside a few weeks before they were blooming outside.

This was just the pick me up I needed to get me through the tail end of the freezing cold days.


My son has a forsythia tree that has been at his house for many years. It has become quite tall because he doesn't prune it, but I look forward to seeing the bright yellow blooms every spring.

Since it is one of the first thing that blooms in the spring, it is such a welcome sign. The bright yellow color is so cheerful and welcoming.

After a long, cold winter seeing the forsythia in bloom is a reminder that spring really is coming and the days will begin to get warmer.


I get happy each year when I drive down the street and see the forsythia in bloom. The first sign of life and color lets me know that spring is not far away, and the tulips and azaleas will soon follow.

The people who grow forsythia on my street do not believe in pruning. So, their plants are huge and full of color. It’s a gorgeous sight to see on the way to work.

One of my neighbors uses colored shell mulch around her forsythia bushes. She puts out bright pink, purple, and blue mulch, and it really enhances the experience. Her garden reminds me of Easter eggs.


Forsythia begin to bloom around the same time as daffodils. The bright yellow color of both make them ideal to use in combination in vases.

I have several forsythia bushes in my yard. I have a row of lemon yellow daffodils planted directly in front of them. This spot of my yard looks like pure sunshine during early spring.

I take a few clippings of forsythia that are several inches longer than the daffodil stems. I place daffodils cut at various lengths in a vase with the forsythia. The bright yellow bouquet is extremely cheerful, and it seems to bring light to the table when used as a centerpiece.

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      Woman with a flower