Early March can be one of the blandest times in the landscape. It can be downright depressing not being able to see any green leaves or any signs of colorful flowers.
However, as the month moves on, March soon becomes one of my favorite times of the year. Seemingly out of nowhere, small clusters of bright yellow flowers begin to pop up on shrubs all over town. These flowers belong to one of the most revered shrubs in our area - forsythia.
Forsythia is a genus of flowering shrubs originally native to Asia. They are named after a Scottish horticulturist, William Forsyth.
Forsythia bushes are not plants to be kept in a small, confined space. They can grow 8 to 10 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide. They produce many clusters of small, golden, bell-shaped flowers, giving rise to its nickname - Golden Bell. The flowers usually bloom in March, but they can be coaxed out in early February by a mild winter. Forsythias usually bloom for two to three weeks.
Part of the beauty of the forsythia is its wild shape. They have many long canes, some of which will grow straight up and some of which will droop. This may not fit well with gardeners who have OCD pruning tendencies. Forsythias make great border shrubs or specimen plantings for a big visual impact.
Another great feature of forsythia bushes is that they can tolerate many different site conditions. I have seen them in several commercial business settings, which usually means the plants can survive hot temperatures, poor soils and droughty conditions. These conditions are also usually present on steep inclines, which make forsythias great for firming up those hard-to-plant hillsides.
Pruning of forsythia bushes should be done just after the blooms fall off. Flower buds for next year are formed in the fall. Flower quantity for the following year will be greatly reduced if pruned in the winter.
The best method for pruning forsythias is to prune older canes back to the base of the plant. This will allow for newer, more vigorous shoots to have room for growth. I recommend never pruning more than 1/3 of the plant in a given year. Thinning out more branches may stress the shrub. Resist the urge to use the electric shearers to prune your forsythias.
If you are looking for a plant to brighten up a tough spot in your landscape, forsythia might be your solution.
Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.