How to Force Forsythia Branches to Bloom Indoors
Forsythia: An Early Spring Shrub
One of the first shrubs to bloom in the early spring, Forsythia is a wonderful sight to behold after a long, dismal winter. This shrub belongs to the same family as the olive tree, but it offers delightful yellow flowers. Depending on the gardening zone you live in, Forsythia will bloom in late March or early April, about the same time that dandelions begin to appear in the lawn.
Forsythia flowers are bright yellow, with four separate petals. The flowers are held on long branches and will become pendulous after heavy rains. This habit helps protect the pollen held within each flower during the tumultuous spring months.
It is not necessary to wait for spring to bring the brightness of spring flowers into the house. Simply cut a few branches from a bush and bring them inside for fresh flowers throughout the winter months.
Step 1: Cut Forsythia BranchesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Step 2: Gather the Branches
We do not have any Forsythia bushes on our property, so we usually prune a few branches from our neighbor's bush. This is a fun wintertime tradition for my children: we hike down to the empty lot, find the Forsythia bushes, and bring them home.
The first step is identifying the Forsythia bush: make note of bushes in your community in the springtime, because the bare branches are difficult to find in the winter.
Inspect the branches for mature buds. Tiny, unformed buds will not force well, so choose branches with small, oblong (about 1/8" to 1/4" long) buds spaced evenly along the branch.
Cut long, whip-like branches about 12" to 18" in length from the bush, and bring them indoors.
Step 3: Submerge in Water
Strip the lower portions of the branches of flower buds and leaf buds. Place the Forsythia branches in a vase full of tepid water, and place the vase in a sunlit location.
Step 4: Wait for the Bloom
The earlier in winter the Forsythia branches are gathered, the longer they will take to bloom. The Forsythia in these pictures was gathered on January 10, and the branches were in full bloom on February 11. In general, branches gathered in early winter will take a full month to produce blooms. Change the water in the vase every few days to prevent bacteria from growing—foul water will rot the branches before they have a chance to bloom.
Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy.— Anne Morrow Lindbergh
How to Propagate Forsythia
Forsythia: Shrub Basics
Forsythia is an extremely easy shrub to grow, and it's easy to incorporate into the landscape. Gardeners who wish to have a ready supply of fresh flowers all winter long should consider planting a few Forsythia shrubs against a forest backdrop or as part of a hedge. Personally, I prefer the look of the bush in its natural state—far too many people prune the shrubs into odd-looking balls or cubes. While topiary has a place in more formal gardens, don't prune Forsythia when it is placed in a more natural setting. The whip-like branches are absolutely beautiful when they are laden with flowers in the spring.
This shrub is used for ornamental reasons, though the branches of one variety are used to make a Korean instrument called an ajaeng. Forsythias prefer placement in full sun, though they will tolerate light shade. They will grow in USDA Gardening Zones 4–9 and require little maintenance once established. The height of the bush depends on the variety, with some shrubs remaining 12" high and others growing to a height of 10 feet.
It is possible to "propagate" Forsythia by taking a branch and bending it to the ground. Cover a portion of the branch with soil, and wait for roots to form. Once rooted, cut the branch from the parent plant and re-plant in a new location. This is a handy way of getting Forsythia bushes for free (make sure you get permission from the plant's owner before propagating)!
Medicinal Uses for Forsythia
Forsythia was featured in the movie Contagion (2011) as a cure to a fictitious viral pandemic that swept the globe. While the use of Forsythia as a panacea is obviously a work of fiction, the plant does have medicinal characteristics.
Ancient Chinese medicine hailed Forsythia as an anti-inflammatory and a fever reducer. The fruits of forsythia suspensa are harvested in the fall and sometimes combined with honeysuckle to produce a medicine capable of treating respiratory infections. Other varieties (specifically forsythia viridissima and forsythia koreana) are also noted for their medicinal qualities.
Forsythia should never be ingested by pregnant or nursing mothers—its safety to a developing fetus or newborn child is unknown, and it can stimulate uterine contractions (causing premature labor).
Forcing Branches to Bloom Indoors
Hands on Gardening: The Forsythia Plant
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Can forsythia cause allergies?
Forsythia can cause allergies, particularly because it is one of the few flowering shrubs pollinated by the wind rather than by insects. For those sensitive to the pollen, early spring winds carrying the pollen can be a particular problem. Privet and Jasmine are other flowering shrubs known to cause allergies.