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January 2008
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Forsythia – Care and pruning

Most people, when interested about Forsythia bushes, are more interested in knowing about how and when to prune the bushes, rather than other aspects. I will try and cover other items as well.
If the shrub is container grown, or has a great root system on it, it can be planted at any time of the year, including high summer. You simply have to watch the water (give it more of it) to help those roots survive in real soil. However, if not planting in a pot or when it has already developed a great root system, then planting in winter is not recommended.
The more sun you give forsythia, the more likely you are to get a full bloom. It is adaptable to most soils including a heavier soil but it does not appreciate being waterlogged. Add a good amount of compost, but not in excess (a shovel full is a good amount).
Forsythia are grown from cuttings. Select cuttings from new growth. Cut a three to six inch branch, and place the end into moist soil. Keep the soil moist to aid rooting. Rooting should only take a few weeks. Transplant rooted cuttings anytime. However, transplanting established plants is best done in winter while the plants are dormant.
While the bush itself is hardy into USDA zone 4, the blooms are only hardy into zone 5. It is quite common in colder areas to not have blooms on tender varieties or to have them *below* the snow line. Forcing Forsythia into blooming indoors is a snap. Simply cut off a few branches, and bring them indoors. Put them in a vase with water. A couple weeks later, the branches will burst into bright cheerful, golden yellow blooms right in the dead of winter.
These shrubs are planted mostly for their flowers, not for their form. The yellow blooms on forsythias come out in February or March, and they flower before their leaves emerge. After the long drab, gray winter, the sight of these bright yellow explosions lifts our spirits.
Now about pruning the bush:
Flowers form on prior year’s growth, not new growth. So, it’s important to prune them immediately after the flowers have bloomed. You can cut back old growth to about four inches from the ground. You usually take about 1/3rd of the stalks out, starting with the oldest &/or dead branches that have bloomed already. Forsythias have a height and width that is genetically programmed into them, and pruning really can’t keep them under a certain size (for any reasonable time). That size for most forsythias is seven to ten feet tall and about as wide.
When the branches (called canes) dip over from their own weight and the topics touch the ground, they will sprout roots and begin a new shrub. In this manner a single shrub can eventually colonize a whole hill side, and run through many neighboring shrubs. When you prune, it is advised to cut out, or cut back these canes and rip up the wandering rooted shrublets. You corral it back to the original shrub. Don’t worry about using shovels, loppers or a mattock to get them out. You won’t hurt what’s left.

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