How To Grow Forsythia Bushes: The First Blooms Of Spring

Forsythias in Bloom
Forsythias in Bloom

How And When To Prune Forsythia

Every spring, Forsythia bushes explode in brilliant bursts of yellow flowers, blasting through the muted tones of the typical northern winter landscape. A flowering shrub that is hardy and easy to grow, forsythias are one of the first plants to bloom in spring. The spindly branches erupt with tiny yellow flowers, ushering in the spring with a magnificent splash of color.

Blooming forsythias bring back memories of spring in my grandfather's garden. A massive tangle of forsythia sprawled along the property line of his suburban backyard, its spreading free-form shape contrasting against the rest of his orderly and carefully designed landscape. Another large forsythia, selectively pruned and shaped, showcased the design versatility of a plant that is often dismissed as ubiquitous.

Forsythia is a common landscape plant for good reasons: forsythia grows well in full sun and tolerates partial shade, isn't fussy about soil conditions, resists pests, grows quickly in naturalized mounds or responds well to pruning, and it is easy to propagate new plants from woody shoots and trimmed branches. After a long winter, the bright yellow blooms of forsythia are a welcome sight, punctuating the arrival of spring to our New England garden.

Forsythia Photos by the Author

Forsythia Pruning, Forcing, Transplanting & Growing Tips

Forsythia Pruning
Forsythia Pruning

When To Prune Forsythia

One of the best characteristics of forsythia is their brilliant yellow blooms. Though each flower is only an inch or so across, the shear number of simultaneous blooms adds up to a spectacular spring show. After the flowers fade away and the petals fall to the ground, tiny green leaves emerge to fill the void.

Forsythia plants are fast growers. These naturally unruly shrubs with arching branches can easily grow up to 10 feet high and spread out almost as wide. An annual trimming helps to control the size and shape of the plant, but forsythia should be planted in areas where they will have enough room to reach their full potential.

So when is the best time to prune forsythia?

Well, my thoughts on this topic tend to go against the grain. While the conventional gardening advice tends to recommend pruning flowering shrubs shortly after they finishing blooming to avoid forfeiting any flowers, I prefer to prune my forsythia plants in late winter before the plants burst into their springtime display. The reasoning is simple: the bare structure of the plant is clearly visible before the plant leafs out, making it easier to shape the plant. I can easily spot and remove dead and broken branches, trim away any crossing canes to prevent rubbing, and reach into the center of plant to thin out weak and older shoots without having to reach in through the leaves. And best of all, I can bring the fresh trimmings inside and force the flowers to bloom for an early spring treat.

Flowering Forsythia
Flowering Forsythia

Forsythia blooms are hard to resist, and I trim a few of the wayward tips after they start to bloom to bring inside. Forsythia cuttings work well in floral arrangements, and the flowers can last for several weeks if you change the water in the vase every few days.

You can also prune Forsythia after they finish blooming. Prune a mature forsythia bush to control its shape by clipping off the ends of branches and removing any broken or damaged limbs. Thin out overgrown bushes by removing 1/4 to 1/3 of the branches, cutting the off the canes just above ground level. Removing the shoots opens the interior of the plant, increasing air circulation and light penetration to stimulate new growth.

And new growth means more yellow flowers!

Forsythia send out new shoots from the base of the plant, and these can be dug up and transplanted to grow into new forsythia plants. All of the forsythias in our yard started as small shoots from my grandfather's garden. He used a sharp spade to cut into the soil around the base of the shoot, freeing the little shrub from its parent plant. Grand Pop transferred the little transplants into re-purposed gardening center pots for the journey to their new home, but you can easily transplant the shoots directly into the ground. Select a sunny location in the landscape where the little plant will have lots of room to spread out and grow for many years of springtime blooms.

When transplanting forsythia, keep in mind that the plant can easily grow up to 10 feet tall and wide, and will naturally develop a wild and unkempt appearance. Choose the locations for planting forsythia accordingly and let the plant grow unrestrained rather that trying to keep it small and orderly through harsh pruning. If you only have a small space for a plant, the forsythia may not be the best choice. But if you have the room to let it grow out naturally (with a little selective pruning, of course), then forsythias will reward you with years of bright yellow blooms.

Grand Pop is gone now, but his legacy still thrives in my gardens and in my memories. Every spring when the forsythias are in bloom, I'm reminded of how much he loved these common yellow plants, and I'm glad that he shared his appreciation with me.

Do You Have Forsythia In Your Yard?

Do You Have Forsythia In Your Yard?

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Forcing Forsythia To Bloom Indoors

Enjoy Spring Blooms in Late Winter

February and into early March is the ideal time to try forcing forsythia cuttings to bloom indoors. The forcing process is easy, gets you out and into the garden (even if there is still snow on the ground), and the reward is a vase full of bright yellow forsythia flowers to enjoy indoors.

It takes about two to three weeks to force a forsythia cutting to bloom indoors.

  1. Go get some cuttings: Trim several branches from a dormant forsythia plant, using sharp bypass pruners to make a clean cut. Make sure that each cutting includes a number of buds, and cut the stems into different lengths for variety. Arranging different heights of blooming forsythia adds more interest than if every cutting is the same length.

    Submerge the cut ends of the branches into a bucket of warm water.

  2. Prepare the cuttings: Forsythia cuttings need to take in water before they can be forced to bloom. Scrape the bark away from the lower couple of inches on each stem. Using a sharp knife, make two or three vertical incisions up from the bottom of the stem (you can also use a hammer to gently smash the ends of the stem).

    Soak the cuttings overnight in cool water. This will help the cuttings to absorb more water.

  3. Fill up a vase: Place the cuttings upright into a vase, and add water. Some folks like to add a few drops of bleach to the water, but I prefer tepid water straight from the tap. Change the water every few days to keep it clean and fresh.

    Place the vase of cuttings in a cool area away from direct sunlight, such as in the basement or garage. Wrapping the cuttings with damp paper towels helps to prevent the buds from drying out.

  4. Pop out the flowers: When the buds begin to swell and change color, move the vase into a well-lit location, but avoid placing the cuttings in direct sunlight. The buds will soon pop open with a burst of color!
  5. Enjoy fresh forsythia blooms indoors! From cuttings to flowers, it takes about two to three weeks to force a forsythia cutting to bloom indoors.

Hard Pruning Small Forsythia Plants

Though I prefer selective pruning, this method of hard pruning reduces spindly growth and encourages a young forsythia to sprout more branches and canes for a fuller plant. Older plants that have grown out of control or are failing to bloom prolifically can be cut back to the ground to rejuvenate the plant.

Forsythia are vigorous growers, and the hard pruning method stimulates new growth. The hard-pruned plant will sprout new canes from the base of the plant and within a season or two, the forsythia will be blooming again.

The Tools of the Trade

Use the right tools for pruning forsythia and other flowering shrubs. Quality pruners not only make the job easier, but using the right pruner to make the right cut results in a cleaner cutting that will heal quicker, ultimately leading to a healthier plant and a better pruning job.

Fiskars Bypass Pruners

Bypass Pruners are perfect for trimming off the ends of small branches. The bypass action of the blades slice cleanly through live stems and branch tips, and bypass pruners are especially useful for harvesting forsythia cuttings for forcing indoors and creating floral arrangements. Do not use bypass pruners to cut out dead branches; anvil pruners are designed to tackle this job.

Fiskars PowerGear Pruner (7936)
Fiskars PowerGear Pruner (7936)

PowerGear design maximizes leverage for increased pruning power


Fiskars Powergear 32-Inch Bypass Lopper

The Fiskar Powergear loppers feature the same bypass blade action as the pruners, for a clean slicing cut through live branches. The extended handles make is easy to reach into the center of larger plants and shrubs to cut out canes, branches and shoots. The long handles also provide extra leverage for slicing through brnaches up to 2 inches in diameter.

Pruning Saw

Great for cutting through larger diameter branches, the blade of the pruning saw extends your reach up and into shrubs and other woody plants to quick work of cutting through limbs and branches.

The Tangle of Forsythia Blooms in Our Garden

Forsythia Plants In Our Garden
Forsythia Plants In Our Garden

More by this Author

Tell Us About Your Forsythias and Flowering Shrubs 44 comments

Dressage Husband profile image

Dressage Husband 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

I love to see these yellow flowers as it is one of the first signs that the long Canadian Winter is finally on its way out. Great Lens thank you for writing it.

JanetG LM profile image

JanetG LM 2 years ago

Yellow forsythia burst forth and make me jump for joy when I see this early sign of spring. When you see those yellow blossoms, you know it's time to apply crab grass killer in our northern area. Beautiful lens with lots of great info. Thanks for sharing this sunny lens. It lifts my spirits to see it.

PNWtravels profile image

PNWtravels 2 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

My current yard is too shady for forsythias, but I look forward to the day when I have a sunnier location where I can enjoy their spring flowers.

River_Rose 2 years ago

Great info here. Thanks for sharing. Never had a Forsythias bush, but they are pretty.

paulahite profile image

paulahite 3 years ago from Virginia

Beautiful lens! Its being featured on our "The Green Thumb: A Place For Gardeners To Gather" Facebook page. Please like/share it with your friends.

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Donna Cook 3 years ago

Great lens! I want to mix forsythia and lilac bushes. I think the yellow and lavender would look so nice together.

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DebMartin 3 years ago

I love forsythia but mine need help. Not sure what the issue is. I got my forsythia from my father whose forsythia gave an amazing show. I can't trim mine in late winter as we have so much snow I often can't even find the plant. I wonder if I have a soil issue. Any tips?

Faye Rutledge profile image

Faye Rutledge 3 years ago from Concord VA

I always love seeing these pretty yellow blooms, as it means SPRING at last! Congratulations on LotD!

AnonymousC831 profile image

AnonymousC831 3 years ago from Kentucky

Nice lens.

anonymous 3 years ago

I don't exactly have a green thumb but this is a groovy lens. Congratulations on getting LotD!

Arachnea profile image

Arachnea 3 years ago from Texas USA

What a pretty plant. At first I thought it was witch's broom. But, I don't think so.

RoadMonkey profile image

RoadMonkey 3 years ago

I love forsythia and have done for many years. Such a bright plant - one of the harbingers of spring.

MJ Martin profile image

MJ Martin 3 years ago from Washington State

Congrats on LOTD. Great pruning tips.

TerriCarr profile image

TerriCarr 3 years ago

I don't know if these bloom in the DC area....but if they do, I can't wait to see one of the first signs of spring. It can't be very soon though with all the cold we have had.

Dressage Husband profile image

Dressage Husband 3 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

I like your winter pruning idea, I have used the same approach with Roses and had a lot of success with it. I will have to try a Forsythia or two. We have a couple of Brooms that flower in the spring and again in the fall that these would complement very well.

esmonaco profile image

esmonaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

Congratulations on LOTD!! and Thanks for the Winter Tip, something I never knew:)

delia-delia profile image

delia-delia 3 years ago

Congratulations on LOTD! This is a great lens for me, as our neighbor has a huge bush that has grown into our yard (no fencing here) they never maintain the this year I will prune it for more flowers and shape. I love Forsythia!

MariaMontgomery profile image

MariaMontgomery 3 years ago from Central Florida, USA

I don't have forsythia now, but have always had it in my yard -- my parents' yard, too. We have relocated to central Florida, and have a very small yard, so forsythia, or yellow bells, as we often call it, is a bit too large and untamed for my yard now. I really miss having it, and watching it open every year. In my home of Alabama it opened in late January or early February. It was always one of the earliest signs of spring, along with crocus bulbs. I love my tropical plants here, but I miss my forsythia, so I really enjoyed your article on this wonderful plant. Contrats of LOTD -- well done.

Carol Houle profile image

Carol Houle 3 years ago from Montreal

Congratulations on your lens of the day. No time to be bored when one has such interesting hobbies and lenses to write.

mbgphoto profile image

mbgphoto 3 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

I always love these beautiful first signs of spring. I have a Forsythia wreath that I put on my door each I just need to get me one of the bushes.

mbgphoto profile image

mbgphoto 3 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

I always love these beautiful first signs of spring. I have a Forsythia wreath that I put on my door each I just need to get me one of the bushes.

favored profile image

favored 3 years ago from USA

Came back to congratulate you on LotD. Nicely done Anthony.

susanholland10 profile image

susanholland10 3 years ago from Southwest Missouri

I love Forsythias. I do not have one, but our neighbor does. I may ask if I can dig up some shoots to try along a fence line. Thanks for this great, informational lens! :-)

MsBertie profile image

MsBertie 3 years ago

Hmmm, the memories. Forsythias are one of the things I miss about a northern spring. Here in the south it's Azaleas, pretty but I miss the cheerful yellow! Great post. Congratulations on Lens of the day.

tonyleather 3 years ago

Great Post. I love my Forthysia hedge, ans have been expanding it sideways, in both directions, for several years now. It looks incredible in bloom!

pawpaw911 3 years ago

You described the behavior of Forsythias perfectly in your opening text. I think you grandfather would be pleased that his appreciation for Forsythias survived through you. We don't have any, but that is due to my laziness rather than their beauty. Congratulations on LOTD. Well done as usual.

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PaynesGrey 3 years ago

I have a Forsythia hedge, it is very easy to trim once it has stopped flowering. The green leaves make an attractive screen until the Autumn.Thank you for a lovely lens!BTW I spotted my fist spring leaves today from a Hawthorn bush, after all the storms and flooding in the Uk this year it does seem that things may be on the up!

getupandgrow 3 years ago

Just waiting for that burst of colour (probably won't be here until at least March in the UK). In the meantime, there's your beautiful lens-I *love* your photographs. Thanks for creating this.

JenApple 3 years ago

I love it. I wish we can plant it here in the Philippines. I just love the bright color. congrats

Diana Wenzel profile image

Diana Wenzel 3 years ago from Colorado

So happy to see your Lens of the Day. Congrats! I used to have forsythia when I lived in Texas. I miss those lovely spring rays of flowering sunshine.

VioletteRose LM profile image

VioletteRose LM 3 years ago

Beautiful blossoms they have, wonderful lens!

ClassyGals profile image

ClassyGals 3 years ago from Pittsburgh

We have a bunch of yellow forsythias lining our back road, such beauty showcases the neighborhood in early Spring.

JohnCumbow profile image

JohnCumbow 3 years ago

We always like to take early spring cuttings from our forsythias and bring them into the house for some bright color as winter winds down and spring begins to take hold.

Redneck Lady Luck profile image

Redneck Lady Luck 3 years ago from Canada

The yellow sure stands out against the cooler colors of the other bushes in the early spring. A very decorative bush.

Pat Goltz profile image

Pat Goltz 3 years ago

I like your contrarian approach to managing these plants. Your reasoning makes sense to me. I am not aware that forsythia can be grown in my climate.

John Dyhouse profile image

John Dyhouse 3 years ago from UK

I have a soft spot for forsythia. I remember when I used some pruned twigs as pea sticks one year after they had been drying out for some time; and they started to grow

favored profile image

favored 3 years ago from USA

I look forward to the first blooms of Forsythia each year. It let's me know spring is near. I didn't know there was also a white flowering one.

RinchenChodron 3 years ago

I like to do Ikebana using forsythia twigs with blooms. You are right so springy!

Zeross4 profile image

Zeross4 3 years ago from Kentucky

My mom has one of these in her front yard it's really beautiful

ecogranny profile image

ecogranny 3 years ago from San Francisco

Alas, we have no yard and only street trees surround this apartment building, but every home I owned prior to moving to the city had a forsythia bush--or three. I loved pruning them so carefully that they always cascaded in lovely yellow fountains of brilliant sunshine color on cold March days. What joy! Thank you for this page--a kind of ode to one of the best plants of spring.

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GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

Just added a link to your post on the Weekend Gardeners FB page. You can find it right here and like it too! am the Weekend Gardener Contributor on Squidoo and always looking for interesting lenses to promote!

SusanDeppner profile image

SusanDeppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

I've been watching our forsythia buds develop despite the harsh winter we've had here in Arkansas this year. Now, this week we should get temps into the 70s which may get them blooming, though a bit early this year. I need to go check today for shoots that I can transplant; I'd love to cover the entire bank where they're planted. Thanks for the information!

Charito1962 profile image

Charito1962 3 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Nice plants!

Merrci profile image

Merrci 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

Interesting lens and lovely photos!

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