Forsythia behaving badly

Forsythia shrub

Well-behaved forsythia shrub


Our hugely overgrown forsythia bushes (probably Forsythia xintermedia which gets to be 8-10’ high by 10-12’ wide—and ours is that large) are behaving badly and about to be entirely cut to the ground.  Forsythia are only pretty for the few weeks when they bloom in spring.  The rest of the time they have wild, messy-looking growth, stems that root when they touch the ground, coarse, uninteresting leaves and unreliable, if any fall color.  Non-bloomers are really a big disappointment.

For years our shrubs have bloomed very little or not at all. We’ve tried many techniques to get them to bloom, but they’ve not responded. Sometimes they bloom a little bit where they were covered (protected) by snow and not in the area above the snow line. Most of the time they don’t bloom at all.

According to Michael Dirr, famous professor of woody plants, this plant is “…vegetatively hardy in zone 4, however, flower buds are often killed in Zone 5…”.  If ours are cut back and come back next year and bloom beautifully, we will be delighted and keep them.  If they don’t bloom, hopefully they will just die and leave room for us to plant something else in their spot.

The best time to prune forsythia is right after they bloom so the buds formed after this year’s bloom will be retained for next year. We’ve done that. We’ve also done the renewal pruning (removing 1/3 of the oldest stems to the base of the ground every year for 3 years.) We were hoping for smaller shrubs, more controlled growth, better shape and more blooms! So after trying these different tactics for the past 5 years, we’re giving up.

Another unpleasant fact for the shrubs we have: the roots are extensive and fibrous and make it difficult for other things to grow around them. This is also the case for the mock orange shrubs that are also planted in that bed. All of these are planted under mature pine trees and are in the sight line of a big picture window. We’ve kept these as long as we have because the birds have really enjoyed using them for shelter.  At this point, though, there are lots of other prettier shrubs they can use that are also food sources, so we are willing to give these shrubs this one last try.

In the meantime, I’m going to concentrate on another part of the shrub border that is more worthwhile.  We’ll give you an update on these forsythia next year.

Leave a Reply