Prairie gardeners eagerly anticipate the first blooms in their outdoor gardens after having them covered in snow for months. The forsythia shrub is one of the first plants to provide such colour.
In late April or early May, depending on the spring, bright yellow, bell-shaped flowers appear on the shrub’s branches.
The entire shrub appears to be covered in gold because the flowers open before the leaves appear.
Forsythia is a native of Asia and Eastern Europe and recently hardy cultivars have been developed, such as Northern Gold for prairie gardeners.
In severe winters when minimum temperatures fall below – 40 C, some die back will occur above the snowline. Forsythia is considered borderline hardy for zone 2, so in both zone 2 and 3 gardens, it should be planted in a sheltered spot that receives deep snow cover and is protected from cold winter winds.
The blooms of forsythia, produced along the length of the branches, are vibrant gold and will last for a couple of weeks. The shrub is fast growing with a fibrous root system that is easy to transplant or divide.
Forsythia is a heavy feeder and will benefit from an application of fertilizer early in the growing season.
A forsythia shrub prefers a rich, well-drained soil and performs best in full sun. Once it is established, a forsythia shrub will require no supplemental watering except during a dry summer.
Erecting a snow fence or placing tree boughs near the shrub in the fall to catch drifting snow and create a deep snow cover will benefit a forsythia shrub and help prevent winter die back.
Forsythia can be a unruly looking shrub and some gardeners prefer to keep it trimmed or pruned to enhance its shape.
Like all spring flowering shrubs, forsythia should only be pruned after the shrub has finished flowering. If pruning is done in early spring before the shrub flowers, flower buds will be removed and if it is pruned too long after it has bloomed, the flower buds that have already formed for next year will be pruned off.
Since forsythia blooms on old wood, it requires the entire summer to form buds for the following year.
Forsythia has a thick growth habit and can be clipped into an attractive hedge or rounded form.
It makes a good addition to a mixed shrub border and some of the hardier shrubs, if planted to the north of it, can serve as protection for the forsythia during the winter.
If you want to get a head start on enjoying blooms from your outdoor garden, you might like to cut some forsythia stems after the buds have started to swell, usually about mid-April, and put the stems in a vase of water indoors.
The flower buds will soon open and you will enjoy the first blooms of springtime.