Forget Forsythia

forsythia03Forsythia blooms are one of the first signs that spring has arrived.  Often blooming in late winter to early spring, it lets us know that cold snowy days are behind us.  The flowers emerge before the leaves creating a stunning display of bright yellow against an often still stark backdrop of the last breaths of winter.  Oh yes, it’s easy to see why Forsythia has become a staple plant in Virginia.  But you know what?  Forget Forsythia!

While the blooms are fantastic they only last for 1 to 2 weeks.  What you are left with is an unruly looking shrub, often mistaken for a weed, that requires hard pruning in most landscape applications.  It’s not known for fall color and has zero winter interest.  Forsythia is not native and does very little for the local wildlife.  Take honey bees for example.  Their tongues are just a little too short to take full advantage of the nectar produced by the flowers.  While not considered “invasive”, Forsythia does spread over time and can be a pain to remove after years of growth.

What you end up with is 14 days of this:
Forsythia Spring

And 351 days of this:

Forsythia in the winterforsythia summer

While working at plant nurseries I remember in early spring countless customers coming in to ask for “that yellow blooming plant” they saw flowering all over the place.  Most didn’t understand that because of its size and growth rate forsythia is really only affective as a backdrop or maybe as a hedge if frequent pruning is something you actually enjoy.  *Keep in mind though that Forsythia blooms on old wood so pruning in summer or fall to maintain a uniform shape will greatly reduce the amount of blooms it produces the following spring.*
The bottom line is, it’s just not that great of a plant!

I understand Forsythia’s appeal (for 2 weeks out of the year) but I would like to make some alternative suggestions for late winter/early spring bloomers that can have just as big of an impact while providing more seasonal interest and benefits for our ecosystem. 

So forget Forsythia and try something new this spring:

Perennials:

Bluestar (Amsonia hubrictii)
Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
Bulbs such as Crocus, Daffodils, and Iris
Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Shrubs: 

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) – late winter to early spring bloomer
Witch alder (Fothergilla) – early spring bloomer
PJM Rhododendron – early spring bloomer
Spice Bush – (Lindera benzoin) – late winter to early spring bloomer

Trees:

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Star Magonolia (Magnolia stellata) – one of the earliest spring blooming trees
Serviceberry (Amelanchier grandiflora)
Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Crabapple (Malus) – varieties range from early to late spring bloomers


Quick Note of Caution:

Keep in mind that all the plants listed here have a wide range of needs and growth habits.  Never hesitate to ask your local nursery expert which of these plants would work best for your particular application.  We’re always happy to answer questions as well. 

Thanks for reading!

– Megan & Brian
www.plantbydesign.com

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