After enduring a long Prairie winter, we gardeners eagerly anticipate those very first blooms in our outdoor gardens. There is great joy in finally seeing flowering plants in our landscapes. The forsythia shrub is one of the first plants to provide bloom to brighten the early-spring garden. Vibrant-yellow, bell-shaped flowers appear before the shrubs leaf out, so the entire shrub looks to be dressed in gold. A native of Asia and Eastern Europe, the forsythia, until lately, was considered too tender to survive in Prairie gardens, and when it did survive, it rarely bloomed. The Agriculture Canada Research Station in Ottawa released a hardy forsythia, a number of years ago that finally allowed Prairie gardeners to be able to enjoy this wonderful shrub.
The hardy strain is a form of Korean forsythia, Forsythis ovata “Northern Gold.” The individual four-lobed flowers are striking dark yellow and produced thickly along the branches of the shrub, and the display of bloom lasts for a couple of weeks before fading. The “ovata” part of the name simply refers to the oval-shaped leaves, but more significantly, the fact that “northern” was included in its name indicates that it is a hardy strain suitable for the Prairies. The problem with forsythias was – and continues to be to some extent even with the introduction of this hardy variety – that the flower buds were not as cold hardy as they needed to be to survive our frigid winters. F. “Northern Gold” however, produces buds that are hardy to -38 C which means that they will come through all but the most severe winters.
If winter temperatures dip below -40 C, the flower buds will most likely be killed and the shrub will not bloom. The shrub is considered “borderline hardy” on the Prairies – it may not die but it may not perform as expected either. Even this hardy forsythia should be planted in a sheltered spot in the garden which receives a deep snow cover and which is protected from cold winter winds.
Forsythia is a relatively fast-growing shrub that grows from a fibrous root system which makes the shrub easy to transplant or divide. It is a heavy feeder and many gardeners apply some fertilizer during the growing season. Planting a forsythia shrub in rich, well-drained soil will allow it to flourish and forsythia shrubs should be exposed to full sun. Erecting a snow fence or placing tree boughs to catch the drifting snow to create a deep snow cover will also be of great benefit, particularly in the case of a severe winter when the shrub may suffer dieback – or certainly bud loss.
Forsythia can be a somewhat unruly-looking shrub and some gardeners prefer to keep it trimmed or pruned to enhance the shape of the shrub, but pruning should be done right after the shrub has finished flowering. If pruning is done before the shrub flowers, flower buds will be removed and if it is pruned too long after it has bloomed, the flower buds for next year will not have time to form since forsythia blooms on old wood. Forsythia has thick growth and can be clipped into an attractive hedge or into various rounded forms. It also can be included in a mixed shrub border.
Forsythia blooms can be forced early in the spring. Well before the snow is gone some branches can be cut and placed in water indoors where the flower buds will break dormancy and burst into bloom. They look particularly spring-like when combined with a few pussy willows. Whether its blooms are enjoyed indoors or outside forsythia is a lovely spring-blooming shrub and although it is sometimes damaged by an extremely cold winter, forsythia is well worth the effort required to include it in the landscape.
– Albert Parsons write from