Trimming and Pruning Forsythia Bushes

Photo of a small forsythia bush
A Small Forsythia with room to grow
Photo by terren in Virginia

The good thing about forsthia is that you can choose whether you want a natural, unpruned look or a tidy, organised trimmed appearance. Even if going for the natural look, you may sometime find that you wat to do a bit of snipping to tidy up your plant.  One which has had a little care can look stunning, especially in spring with its display of bright yellow flowers.  Fortunately pruning forsythia is quite an easy task and can be enjoyable too.

Planting and Planning for Future Growth

Forsythia is a large, fast growing shrub that flowers in the early spring. This plant is amongst those which are often badly pruned by some gardeners. Part of the reason for this can stem from when the plant was young.   Unfortunately, people tend to underestimate the growth potential of these plants, and end up giving them too litte space to spead and expand.  If inadequate space is given to the shrub for its growth before it reaches its full mature size, it can start to overrun into areas that you had not planned for it to be.  When this happens, some gardeners take drastic measures to try to keep the bush within the small space allocated to it.  However, nature will have its own way.  If a plant wants to grow, it will, and with the rapid speed of growth that forsythia possesses, a plant which is overly-confined will keep trying to spread out. 

Forsythia flowers photo
A neatly pruned Forsythia hedge
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

When you are deciding on positioning and planting your forsythia, remember therefore that although you may only start with a tiny twiggy structure, you should plan ahead for the time when your plant reaches its adult size.  You will find that Forsythia bushes grow up to 3 metres tall and wide.  Take this into consideration and you'll avoid future heartache. 

The Best time to Prune Forsythia Bushes

Many gardeners give their forsythia bushes a pruning once a year but it is entirely up to you how often you wish to trim your plant. You could go for years without pruning, or could give them a snip every few months.  Commonly, pruning Forsythia is done in late Spring, just after the plant has flowered.  Instead of this, waiting until later in the year until the flowers have gone is often a better idea.  Without the flowers in the way you can look at the branching structure and more easily plan your snipping and trimming with pruners and loppers.

If you have a case of a badly shaped or overgrown plant which you 
do choose to prune just after it has flowered, then get ready for a bit of heartache as you lose lots of those lovely blooms.  Don't let them go to waste though - you could create some lovely cut-flower displays using the snipped twigs.  Use these to decorate your home or give to family or friends.  Maybe there's a local residents group who meet near you who would appreciate a display to brighten their meeting hall.

Techniques for pruning Forsythia

If trimming is required, the tallest and oldest canes should be sawn off   Branches that are hanging close to the ground should be pruned away. The tips may start touching the ground due to their weight and could give rise to an unnecessary new plant. Such canes should be chopped off and the rooted bits should also be ripped out of the ground. After this, one third of the old growth should be trimmed off each year.

If you find branches which are growing awkwardly or rubbing together, they should be removed. Cut these all the way back to the stem from which they've sprouted to ensure that they don't simply re-grow in the same awkward shape.  A few canes should be cut from middle of the plant to open it up.

Picture of a rounded Forsythia bush
A Rounded Forsythia bush
Picture by terren in Virginia

Letís suppose your Forsythia has acquired a terrible shape or is badly pruned and it is the case that it doesnít flower anymore. In this situation, you should cut the entire plant in late winter. You will then have a refreshed version of the plant later on when it grows back.

Depending on your garden's design, you may want to try to create a symmetrical structure to your plant.  The best way to do this is to prune a bit from one side, then go to the other side to trim a similar amount, then go back to the first side and do some more, then over to the opposite side again.  By using this method rather than prune everything from one side at once, it can be easer to see how things are panning out to create the structure you want.

Once your plant is mature and reasonably dense, you may want to have fun by trying to prune your forsythia into a particular shape.  You could sculpture a nice ball shape, or maybe a tree by cutting your plant with a bit of artistry.  Just use a bit of imagination and let the plant's existing structure guide you a little. 

Remember that pruning should be an enjoyable excercise for you.  If you are a beginner you may feel as though you are currently a bit rubbish at all this pruning lark, but don't worry, we all start like this at the beginnning.   With time and practice your pruning will become better and it will enhance the beauty of your forsythia plant.

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