Forsythia hedge in winter

Planting Forsythia Hedges: Tips On Using Forsythia As A Hedge

Forsythia (Forsythia spp.) offer brilliant yellow blossoms that usually appear in very early spring, but sometimes as early as January. If you plan on using forsythia as a hedge, it is important to plant them correctly. To successfully create this type of hedge, you’ll need to know how and when to trim a forsythia hedge. Read on for information on planting forsythia hedges and forsythia hedge pruning.

Using Forsythia as a Hedge

Planting forsythia hedges requires appropriate spacing of the plants and regular pruning. If you want a more natural look, space the plants several yards apart and allow them, over time, to partially fill in the spaces between.

If you want a sheared, formal hedge, leave less space between the forsythia shrubs. When you are planning forsythia hedge spacing, take into account the mature height and spread of your species of forsythia. Border forsythia, for instance, grows to 10 feet tall and 12 feet wide.

Forsythia Hedge Pruning

It’s easy to neglect forsythia pruning since the shrubs demand so little and grow so abundantly. But appropriate pruning is essential when planting forsythia hedges, and trimming also keeps your shrubs blossoming generously in spring.

Decide the height of the hedge before you begin pruning. The size of a forsythia hedge depends on the variety of forsythia you plant, as well as the cultivar. It is possible to create a short, medium or medium-tall forsythia hedge.

Learning when to trim a forsythia hedge is just as important as learning how to prune it. This shrub flowers in early spring, and buds for the following season develop soon after the old flowers fade. This means that major pruning should be done early, between the time the current blossoms die and bud set. Pruning later in the year means you will have fewer blossoms the following season.

You should do major pruning very soon after flowering is completed in spring. Cut back all shoots that flowered by at least one third, making the cut at a lateral shoot or leaf joint. Cut about a quarter of the remaining growth at ground level to encourage basal growth.

Trim the hedge for a second time in late July or August. This time, use hedge clippers or shears to give a light trim to shape the hedge rather than a major pruning.

Why Do People Hate Forsythia?

It’s about time…

Time to put the top down in the “interchange yellow” mini cooper and let the cool spring breeze blow through my hair, Princess Grace-like, that is, with a scarf and sunglasses. It was a fun way to celebrate the warm weather with yesterday being my first top-down day of 2010.

I’ve never had a convertible before, so pardon my enthusiasm – it’s our first spring together. It’s quite the glamorous vision until you realize there’s a toddler car seat in the back, totally ruining the “I’m so cool” look?

Ha-ha…I crack myself up – a glam-mom, that’s me!

It’s also time for all yellow flowers to burst open and brighten your day with their happy spring-time tones.

After that horrendous snow fall and all the damage that was done, it’s good to see the garden is aglow with interesting selections of forsythia like ‘Golden Peep’ and ‘Lynwood Gold’. I like both of these selections because they are not your grandmother’s forsythia. Golden Peep ‘Coutdijau’ grows to only 2 1/2 feet tall and ‘Lynwood Gold’ has sturdy blooms that are truly golden in color.

One of my other favorites is Gold Tide ‘Courtasol’. Gold tide and Golden Peep were introduced in the US by The Conard-Pyle Co. They were bred in France. Gold Tide is a very useful ground cover selection that looks just as gorgeous in the summer without blooms as it does in March, blanketed in golden yellow blooms.

I long for yellow this time of year and nothing says spring like the golden yellow blossoms of forsythia on a chilly spring day.

Why do people hate forsythia?

Perhaps it’s because it is so common. Perhaps it’s because they are quite possibly one of the most tortured ornamental plants in America’s gardens. When I studied landscape design in college, we would rather have died than spec something as common as forsythia in a design.

It was taboo… and we thought we were way too cool.

Imagine life without them?

Box stores and garden centers still sell them, but it’s such an impulse item. Once they stop blooming, you can hardly give them away. Designers and architects have stopped specifying them in their plans. I bet it’s been 20 years since they were planted heavily, yet you still see them dotted from garden to garden, mostly in older neighborhoods and in many older urban plantings.

I’ve come to love and appreciate them for what they are – a concept that seems foreign to many these days. I imagine modern, minimalist landscapes using seasonal drifts of magical color. One of the plants I would use is plain old fosythia. I might use one of the fancy new selections that doesn’t grow like a weed, but I’d use them for all of their golden yellow glory.

Their foliage is a lovely shade of grass green all summer followed by a surprisingly lovely shade of deep maroon in the fall. They sit in the back of the garden, providing the perfect backdrop for other plants. They are the most unpretentious garden guests. Forsythia are commonly disease free, terribly drought tolerant, and they bloom reliably year-after-year.

What more could you ask for? Talk about a carefree plant…

The only way to hurt them is to prune in the fall – and that doesn’t hurt, but there will be no blooms in spring.

So tell your neighbors, spread the word…

If yours is too big, chop it off in the spring! Don’t wait till fall or you’ll get nothing at all – blooms, that is.

There’s nothing more pathetic than a hacked-up forsythia with only a handful of blooms in the spring. Sort of defeats the whole purpose, don’t you think?

Po-tay-to, po-ta-to, to-may-to, to-ma-to…

For-sith-ia, For-sigh-thia?


Named after William Forsyth (1737–1804), a Scottish Botanist, who was a royal head gardener and founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society. This genus of flowering plants, forsythia, is named in his honor.

Webster’s pronounces forsythia the way most Americans do, but they pronounce the name of the founder, Forsyth, as if the word has a silent “e”, making it for-sigh-th.

So what is the correct pronunciation? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

You’d think the pronunciation of the founder’s last name would make it certain, but the jury’s out on this one for sure – even in my circle of plant geek botanic garden friends.

So plant some forsythia, no matter how you say it, and spread the joy of spring. We need those yellow blooms to bring us out of our winter doom. Future generations will thank you.

Back to the garden…

Blooming in tandem with the forsythia is my beloved winter hazel (Corylopsis spicata), with its tough, yet delicate looking butter yellow, bell shaped blooms.

The winter hazel is followed by the awesome flower power of my Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens ‘Margarita’). This uncommon, yet hardy, evergreen vine has tubular, golden yellow blooms and deep green, leathery foliage. It’s a totally cool plant that loves to twine and it blooms before any hardy vine I know.

Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget the daffodils… a true harbinger that warmer weather is within reach.

Spring has definitely sprung, here in Baltimore. I’m hoping it’s not too far away for you and your gardens.

Now down to business, but first, a little ditty to brighten your day.

“Sunshine, daydream, walking in the tall trees, going where the wind goes, blooming like a red rose.
Now come on over sweetly, ride out singin’, “I got you in the morning sunshine.”” ~ Grateful Dead

Although I have no yellow, spring flowering plants in my line-up yet (there’s one coming real soon…stay tuned!), here’s a yellow, summer-flowering selection I’m really excited to share. I am proud to be representing North Creek Nurseries for their introduction of a fantabulous new false sunflower (Helianthus x multiflorus) called ‘Sunshine Daydream’. This new selection has many, completely double yellow blooms and deep green foliage on a tall, sturdy plant.

Here’s to a very prosperous spring!
Until next week…

Angela Treadwell Palmer
President, Plants Nouveau

If you don’t know how to prune forsythia, you’re not alone. This is one of the most mal-treated shrubs around. The reason: it’s a big shrub that’s usually planted in a spot that’s too tight. So everybody shears and whacks it back to try to keep its size manageable.

Forsythia shrubs need lots of space
Photo: by Arielle

But, remember how nature works: plants grow to a height and width that’s genetically programmed.

Forsythia bushes grow seven to ten feet tall and wide, but more often than not, they’re planted where they only have four or five feet to spread.

So the battle starts: constant pruning to try to make the shrub smaller. The result: forsythias shaped into ugly balls, box-like squares or hamburger buns, when the plant’s habit is naturally arching and vase-shaped.

How to grow and prune forsythia naturally

The best way to avoid bad pruning and the problems that result is, of course, to choose a spot where your shrub has enough room to spread and grow to mature size.

However, even sited correctly, forsythias can get quite unruly and messy-looking, and that’s where good pruning technique comes in.

Don’t shear forsythia, or whack them back to make them smaller. I know you’ve even seen landscapers do it, but this is bad pruning. The best way to reduce the size of your shrub is to saw off some of the tallest, oldest canes close to ground level each year.

More proper pruning tips:

  • Also prune out dead canes, and take out any branches that are rubbing against each other, or that are growing from the outside back toward the center. Then prune a few canes or branches out of the center of the plant to open it up a bit.
  • Be sure to cut off any branches growing or hanging close to the ground. Eventually, their weight causes the tips to touch the ground, grow roots, and start another plant. To keep your shrub from running amok, cut back those canes, and rip out any rooted bits.
  • As a general rule, remove about one-third of the old growth each year. If you follow the steps above each season, and allow your forsythia enough space, it should be able to keep its natural shape, and still look tidy and cared-for.
  • If your forsythia is in impossible shape – either a messy thicket, or so mal-pruned that it no longer has many flowers, just cut the whole thing to the ground in late winter. New canes will grow from the roots, and you’ll have a refreshed plant within a season.

When to prune forsythia

You can prune this shrub before flowering, even though the standard advice is to wait until after flowering.

It won’t hurt the plant, and if you’ve got a misshapen shrub that no longer flowers well, you haven’t got flowers to lose anyway.

The annual shape-up pruning routine described above is best done in late winter or very early spring before flowering. The reason: When the shrub is bare, you can really see the branching structure, and it’s easier to get into the middle of the canes with your pruning tools.

Wouldn’t you rather forgo a few flowers in favor of a good pruning job? Besides, you can take some of the cut branches inside to force blooms in a vase for a welcome touch of spring.

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