The bright yellow cascades of bell-shaped flowers on my forsythia bush join daffodils, hibiscus and magnolias as one of the early bloomers of spring. I’ve watched people at Lowes buy these plants en masse, wondering to myself if they realize just how large they will grow if left untended.
Forsythia are such a common bush in this part of the Midwest that I’ve seen them growing wild and taking over the entire fronts of abandoned houses. This was one of the first plants I introduced to our barren yard when we bought our house in March of 2001. I worked with a nurse that had a massive bush in her yard and was willing to part with a few of the new sprouts, “Take all you want. PLEASE.” She told me. From three tiny new starts with some good roots, I was rewarded with three good sized bushes in only a few years. Ten years later, the bush receiving the most sun (and possibly the best soil) is now the size of a car. I have absolutely no idea which cultivar of forsythia my yard is sporting; there are about 12 different types, all originating from Asia.
Forsythia are very forgiving and easy to grow, even for the most novice gardener. They do require some pruning to maintain shape; some cut them into hedgerows of squares or rectangles to use as a privacy fence. I always thought this looked rather odd and very unnatural however, I prefer them a bit wild and rambling. Forsythia drop tiny winged seeds in fall, yet in the twelve years I’ve had my three, I’ve yet to see a rogue bush sprout in the woods from seed. They can propagate by cuttings of green wood after they flower; the easiest way to get some (other than potted from a nursery) is to simply dig up some of the side shoots of an adult plant with a bit of root. Forsythia can be encouraged to create rows and spread simply by anchoring limbs to touch earth; roots will sprout from the anchored branch and begin to grow another plant next to the original. They can also be trained to espalier on a wall or trellis. In planting beds, they will need constant pruning to keep the growth habit in check; otherwise they can easily overwhelm the bed in a couple of seasons, growing up to 9 foot wide and 15 foot tall on a single bush.
Forsythia are great plants for borders and slopes, they aren’t particularly selective of soil type, are deer resistant and the branches make gorgeous vases of cut flowers. The tight buds can be brought inside in winter and put in a vase of warm water to force blooms. The recommended care requirements list a minimum of 6 hours full sun, zones 4-9, occasional application of fertilizer and moderate watering. I can vouch for them being fairly drought tolerant; they showed little stress compared to other plants last year during the worst drought I’ve seen since we’ve owned our property. Mine are also planted in rocks and clay, I’ve never personally bothered with fertilizer, just the occasional application of mulch in the fall.
I don’t use my plants for anything other than ornamental purposes, especially since I’m not sure of the particular species. The Chinese use the species Forsythia Suspensa as a fundamental plant in herbology. The fruit is boiled and the essence is extracted for use in treating skin infections and boils, intestinal worms and to control menses. The roots have been used to treat colds, fever and jaundice; essence of the leaves and twigs are said to be useful in treating breast cancer. Laboratory studies have confirmed forsythia to have anti-tumor, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammation properties.
Here in the Ozarks, our forsythia are simply the heralds of spring. I watch them in anticipation of warmer days ahead; as soon as I start to see the tight buds open up a bit, I know spring is just right around the corner. J