Don’t go blooming mad this spring

Yes I get it.  We are all so ready for the colors of spring.  None of us can resist that first early visit to the nursery.  After a long drab winter, anything that looks vibrant immediately draws our attention.  Some of these impulse items find their way into our shopping cart.  After one or two weeks of color, the plants we bought with such enthusiasm end up as garden disappointments for the next 50 weeks of the year.

Here is the most common mistake

We buy Forsythia on impulse.  Who can resist the poster-child plant that is a harbinger of spring?  The problem isn’t so much the plant, but it’s where we put it. 

Forsythia looks best if it is allowed to grow into its natural shape and in the sun.  Most people don’t realize when they buy that innocent looking little clump; the plant wants to be about 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide.  Without thinking, people plant it right up against their foundation, or jam it in-between other plants in their landscape.  Then, the fast growing monster takes over.  To tame the beast, they get out the hedge clippers and hack it into the shape of a green meatball.

To compound the problem, people inevitably prune Forsythia in the fall and then have few flowers in spring except on the interior of the plant (ugly two-tone effect).  Forsythia, like many flowering shrubs blooms on “old wood” (last season’s growth).  If you must prune Forsythia, do it right after its done flowering.

I call Forsythia a 60 mile-an-hour plant.  In other words, I can enjoy them on other people’s property while driving by, and therefore don’t need them in my garden.  They look fantastic especially on large scape landscapes when sited properly.  But for most of us on smaller properties, there are far too many other interesting plants to grow that also have more than one ornamental feature to look forward to.  For example, if you crave the early yellow spring flowers, try Witch-hazel.  Not only does it bloom several weeks earlier depending on the Cultivar, but it is also intoxicatingly fragrant.  Witch-hazel also has incredible fall color to look forward to, unlike Forsythia that drops off in October as dingy green.

If you insist on being blooming mad:

  • Plant Forsythia in the full sun.

  • Plant as a single specimen away from other plants to showcase its natural mounding shape.

  • Only prune right after it is done flowering so you’ll have flowers the following spring.

  • If you do prune, please resist the meatball shape.  It is far better to cut it close to the ground and let it grow back again in a natural shape.  You can do this every year with discipline if you’re so inclined.

  • Consider going to the nursery and bringing home a Witch-hazel instead!