Friday, March 27, 2009

Read this before you prune that Forsythia

Photo credit: by Arielle (via Flickr)

Forsythia shrubs are enormously popular for their cheerful early spring flowers. If you have this shrub and are confused about how to prune it, you're not alone. This is one of the most mal-treated shrubs around.

The reason – it's a shrub that gets big, but it's usually planted in a spot that's too small. The result: you shear it or whack it back and hope that will make it smaller. But nature has the last word. (Doesn't she always?) Pruning stimulates more growth, and plants grow to a height and width that's genetically programmed. For forsythia shrubs, that's 7 to 10 feet tall and wide.

So what do people do to forsythias that are shoehorned into just 4 or 5 feet of ground? They prune them into unsightly balls, squares or hamburger buns, when in fact this shrub's growth habit is naturally arching and vase-shaped.

For better-looking forsythia shrubs, here's how and when to prune the right way.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener


  1. that is a glorious forsythia. too bad most people prefer the whack-a-shrub pruning method. it was good to read about the right way to prune...pruning can be scary...I never want to make a horrible, disfiguring mistake. But really, in the case of forsythia at least, it seems straightforward. thanks for the link.

  2. I'm doning my homework now!!! Whooo hoooo!!!
    Thanks Yvonne

  3. Forsythias are great early spring flowering shrubs - and easy to force very early inside the house too. I planted 3 Forsythia Northern Gold in the fall of 2007, but they all died late winter/early sprng. They started with swelling buds early spring, then the new sprigs turned limp and black!! Waterlogged! I must try again this year at a not so wet spot.

  4. Thank you Yvonne! This is just what I was looking for, as our Forsythia has become overbearing and needs a little love.

  5. Anonymous2:05 AM

    I wish I had read this before pruning. Our Forsythias (we have two) were a mass of glorious colour last year and in the autumn I gave it a ´good haircut` and then in early spring before flowering my husband had another go. This year the flower show is depressing to say the least. What sad, woody bushes! I wonder though what effect it had being covered in a really heavy snow blanket for a long time?


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-Yvonne, aka Country Gardener