Each day my garden wakens a bit more, and the colors of spring — green, blue, orange, pink, and yellow — are beginning to show. Last week my forsythias had only gray branches, and now golden bells are coming out all along their arching stems. Here are some photos, as they are beginning to bloom:
Forsythia is a common shrub which grows in hardiness zones 4-9. Its golden bell-shaped flowers appear all along the stems prior to the fresh green leaves in early spring. It is a tough, reliable plant which does best in sun to part shade and well drained, acid soil. My plants are a form of forsythia suspensa. These are large shrubs, growing up to eight feet tall and wider than that. They have a weeping habit, and older plants can look quite wild, with branches growing willy-nilly in all directions. There are many cultivars, with those of forsythia intermedia being smaller and more upright in habit. These also tend to have more strongly colored flowers than the cultivars of forsythia suspensa.
All of my forsythias are ancient, and I prune them every few years to maintain their vigor. Pruning should be done after flowering, as they bloom on old wood. I haven't done a thing to mine in years, and I think this year I should prune and fertilize them. Earlier this week I spent all of one day pulling vines and cutting dead branches out of my oldest forsythia. It looks much neater and healthier, and I am sure it will bloom better now.
Old forsythias which are blooming poorly can be rejuvenated by drastically cutting back to the ground, so that vigorous new growth begins. It will take a few years for the plant to reach its full glory, so I would do this as a last resort. I have never cut mine back that severely; though when I prune them, I do usually cut about a third of the oldest stems back to the base.
Forsythias will form suckers, and branches will take root where they touch the ground. These can be cut and transplanted to other locations. All of my forsythias came from the same mother plant, the old one I spoke of above.
I don't think forsythia is the most beautiful plant, but I do like its graceful habit and its cheerful flowers that come in with spring. I have a sentimental attachment as well. The mother plant was blooming shortly after my third son was born. My memories of his early infancy include rocking him while gazing out the large living room windows and watching a family of red birds nesting in its branches. I always think of that special time when I see it blooming.
My neighbor Betty recently gave me an old birdhouse. It is well made of cedar, and I painted it and hung it in the woodland garden near the mother forsythia. I don't know if the red birds, or any birds, will be interested. But it is a pretty bird house, and they are welcome.
I have been busy weeding, raking, planting, and transplanting this week. And most important, relaxing. I regularly spend time soaking in the sights and sounds and smells of my garden. What is the point of my garden, if I don't watch the birds or appreciate forsythia's fountain of golden bells?