After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, Leah now enjoys writing about science, gardening, and travel.
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 Branches
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
Question: Can forsythia cause allergies?
Answer: 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.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 07, 2013:
Our winters can be so very long, Peggy, and I am always happy when we have a burst of bright yellow on those dreary days. We still have a lot of snow on the ground now, and we are very anxious for spring! I have a vase of blooming Forsythia on my kitchen table right now.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 07, 2013:
My parents had forsythia shrubs along the side of their home in Wisconsin when I was a child. I well remember them cutting some branches and forcing the blossoms. It is so pretty and is a definite mood lifter to see those pretty yellow flowers when there is still snow on the ground. Enjoyed this hub and thanks for the memories. Up and useful votes.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 11, 2012:
It is such a nice burst of color - I love looking at that bright yellow on those gloomy days! Flowers are so easy to force - the same concept can be applied to crabapple branches, cherry branches, etc. Thanks for the comment, Dolores!
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on March 10, 2012:
A lovely way to banish late winter blahs. I have a vase of bright yellow forsythia in the living room - brought in the sticks just when the paperwhites were pooping out. I love that intense yellow of forsythia - it's so cheerful!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 01, 2012:
Sgbrown, I really want a forsythia bush in our own backyard. I'm thinking of planting the bushes along the edge of our backyard. Our neighbor has a ton of bushes, so I'm sure we'll be able to propagate some from her side yard! I love spring flowers!
Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on March 01, 2012:
Wonderful hub! I had a forcythia at the previous house I lived at. I so wanted to dig it up and bring it with me. I wish I had known then how to propigate it. I should by another one and plant this year...good idea! Thanks for sharing the useful information! Voted up, useful and sharing on my blog. Have wonderful day! :)
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 01, 2012:
Thank you, Stephanie! I love forsythia - I really can't wait for it to bloom this year, because it is so very gray outside. Spring is so lovely when the winters are long and dark!
Stephanie Henkel from USA on March 01, 2012:
When I was a child, my mother would bring in forsythia branches every spring to force. I still love the bright yellow blooms whether they are cut and forced or cascading in yellow waterfalls in their natural state! I never realized that forsythia had medicinal uses, nor that it is related to the olive. Thanks for an informative and lovely hub -- just right for early springtime! Voted up and shared!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 12, 2012:
Leah, definitely give it a try. I love having fresh flowers in the house to brighten things up - our neighbor has a hedgerow growing in an empty lot, so she doesn't mind if we snip a few branches here and there. It does take a few weeks for the blooms to open up, but it is well worth the wait!
Leah Helensdottr from Colorado on February 11, 2012:
I found this very interesting. I don't have enough sun in my yard to grow forsythia, but maybe I can borrow a few branches from a neighbor. Thanks for this hub--voted it interesting and useful.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 11, 2012:
Hyphenbird, it is always so fun to find the branches and bring them inside. We have a vase full of bright yellow flowers blooming on our dining room table right now, and it really brightens up the gloomy winter days!
Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on February 11, 2012:
What a great idea. Thank you for this. I am in serious need of color and a bright spot of yellow shall make me happy and soothe my restless soul.