Forsythia and Spicebush Update

There are two shrubs in the garden that provide us with cheerful yellow flowers in early spring. First, there’s a single old Forsythia of unknown variety. Second, there are several Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) that I planted at least five years ago.


Of the two, Forsythia is normally the extrovert, making a big noise in the garden with its boisterous yellow flowers (and probably annoying the other shrubs who are just starting to rouse themselves).  Spicebush is the introvert, murmuring politely with its fuzzy little blooms.

Last year I wrote a post (which you can read hereabout how the Forsythia was blooming very sparsely. I cut it back hard after it flowered, though I didn’t cut it to the ground as some readers recommended. This year I think it is doing a bit better, but it still seems rather lethargic.

Forsythia, blooming a bit better this year.

I notice that most of the young stems it sent up last year have very few blooms. I wonder if Forstythia stems tend to bloom more in their second year. I hope so.

Regarding the Spicebush, I’m sorry to say I lost one over the winter. I have no idea what killed it, but it did seem to be in decline last summer. On the other hand, the remainder seem quite perky in their quiet way.

If more Spicebush die, I don’t think I would replace them with the same species. One of the main reasons I chose this plant was to attract Spicebush Swallowtail Butterflies, but in all these years I haven’t seen a single caterpillar. Spicebush is a pleasant shrub, though. In addition to the flowers, it’s got red berries (though mine fruit sparsely and the fruit is eaten almost immediately by birds) and nice creamy yellow foliage color in the fall.

The Forsythia across the street seems to be blooming a bit more sparsely this year. This is a shrub I normally covet every April.

Are you having a good year for Forsythia and/or Spicebush?


61 Comments on “Forsythia and Spicebush Update

  1. The Forsythia is great here this year, but mine is also a very old shrub and needs a lot of old wood cutting out this spring. You are right: the young shoots need a year before they produce flowers. The wild cherry blossom (Prunus avium) in the hedges is also wonderful this year too.

  2. Forsythia is a good plant to bring a few stems indoors, the heat brings the flowers on. I only take the really old dead wood out, rather than be severe, as it needs a couple of years to flowers really well.

    • Good to know about needing time for the stems to bloom well. I always mean to bring in some Forsythia stems to force indoors, but I always forget.

  3. I used to have a Forsythia but one of our birds, a Bullfinch, has a reputation for eating Forsythia buds. After years of having no blossom I dug it out as, lets face it, it isn’t a wonderful shrub for the rest of the year is it? Maybe you have a bud eating bird too!

  4. When I was a kid, up through the 60’s and 70’s, forsythia seldom bloomed here, because the winters were too cold, killing the flower buds produced the previous year, Spicebush does not seem to be reliably hardy here–our winters are colder than yours.

    • Forsythia seems fairly common around Evanston, but as you say we have a milder winter here by the lake. I don’t know if that one deceased Spicebush fell prey to cold or something else. As I say, the others look fine.

  5. We’ve never been successful with Forsythia, neither in our current place in Wales or in our past home in London, but my mother grew a most spectacular Forsythia that was more like an intenselty-flowering tree than anything else. I wonder if position makes a difference – hers was in between two flower beds and in front of a cherry tree with half sun, half shade most of the time.

  6. Some of our forsythia blooms opened in December during a warm spell, so the shrubs were not quite as showy as usual in March. The trick is to prune out a 1/3 of the oldest wood each year just after it flowers, so it continually renews itself. A meal of rich compost about the same time doesn’t hurt either.

    • I removed quite a lot last year, so I think I’ll hold off much pruning this year. I’ll treat the Forsythia to some compost, though.

  7. Don’t grow forsythia here but there were some beautiful displays of it planted in a berm along the highway, so we were able to enjoy it on our daily commute. Loved your introvert/extrovert analogy.

  8. My forsythia is blooming alright for where it is. It is in too much shade. If I had a place to move it I would. I don’t have a spicebush. I would like to have one but have never seen one offered around here. It sounds beautiful. Spicebush Swallowtails occasionally sashay through our garden. It would be nice to have a Spicebush to entice them to lay their eggs here.

  9. When we’re wondering if winter will ever end in February, I cut a few stems of forsythia and bring them indoors. The cheerful yellow flowers that appear after a few days are a mood lifter.

  10. We really whacked the forsythia last year, and mine too is sparse. It is also a variety that blooms a bit later than most, but that didn’t seem to help this year, thanks to the weather. Two of them are located near gates and their unruliness needs to be controlled, but maybe I will let the third go (relatively) wild. I’m contemplating adding a spice bush, to replace a viburnum that just up and died one day.

  11. I grow neither, but will enjoy yours. I was mentioning to someone recently that on a trip to Oregon 3 years ago in March was the first time I’d ever seen forsythia in “real life.” He was aghast! But, he’s from the East Coast and I grew up in Texas–’nuff said.

  12. Our forsythia didn’t do well this year. It was warm early then froze, then warmed up and then froze again. They didn’t really have a chance and neither did my daffodils. My spice bush looks great though. I have mine in morning sun. I sure wish you had caterpillars though, they are so cool!

  13. I gave up on the large forsythia, and my dwarf bush that grows more prostrate blooms profusely. It grows next to the hot driveway and is buried by snow so maybe that protects it. Spicebush plants I started were little twigs that are still growing into bushes although not much flowering or any swallowtails yet.

  14. I’m still waiting for my forsythias to bloom. One is usually spectacular, the other less so. This year I need to prune the good bloomer and will follow Marian’s advice, given above. But since it is quite an old bush, I will cut back something less than a third of it so that I don’t shock the bush too much.

  15. The spicebush is very elegant in its subdued way.
    Forsythias do not seem to like the garden here. They grow but they sulk and are miserly with their flowers.

  16. Forsythia is such an easy cheerful shrub, and although fairly forgettable for the rest of the year, it is certainly stunning at the moment. I am not familiar with Spicebush though. I also love Kerria (Bachelor’s Buttons) which is equally as cheerful.

  17. Spicebush is a plant I never see because they like a much sweeter soil than we have here. I’ve heard there are pockets of them on limestone cliffs in the area but I haven’t climbed up to see them yet.
    Forsythia is doing well this year though a few that flowered before our record cold snap lost every blossom.
    Forsythia bloom on year old wood but they also need a lot of sun for optimum bloom. Shade will cause sparse blooming.

    • The soil here is pretty alkaline so that’s not a problem. On the other hand, we’re pretty much at the north end of the hardiness zone for Spicebush.

  18. I remember a lot of great forsythia from Ann Arbor, where I grew up, but they are in a warmer zone. I don’t think it does as well up here –everyone’s is sparse compared to what I remember.

  19. I have two small divisions of forsythia just getting established outside my study window, but it will be a few more years before they provide me with substantial blooms. Next year, I may have to scout out forsythia cuttings from a friend or neighbor to force indoors in late winter.

  20. My mom was so excited to see the forsythia! She spent time as a little girl in the former home of ‘the’ Mr. Forsyth in Franklin, Indiana (on Forsyth Street, no less). Those yellow blossoms are very special to her. Lovely photo!

  21. Oops – the Franklin, Indiana Forsyth may have been a different guy (an artist). But my mom still loves the plant, no matter which Forsyth was which…(sorry…).

    • I just looked it up and apparently the Forsythia Forsyth was a Scottish botanist. Even so, I think all Forsyths should get a little bit of the glory.

  22. Lots of the blossom trees seem especially good this year and not just in the garden, this might be because the summer was very hot last year. I don’t grow Forsythia but I like seeing it around in other gardens.

  23. We have Forsythia, but it is quite old now, and doesn’t flower the way it used to..but I could never dig it up it is so much a part of the garden.

  24. We don’t have forsythia at the little house in the big woods, but there is some on our road. Not in bloom yet. I am waiting. Impatiently.

  25. I tried growing Forsythia for a year or two, but it did not flower particularly well (probably did not give it enough time) and I had some mysterious branch diebacks.

    Ultimately, I decided we were not meant to be together, so I shovel-pruned it last autumn and replaced it with an Ilex decidua (native possumhaw holly), which has leafed out beautifully this spring, but is probably too young to flower or produce fruit.

  26. The Forsythia here is woven into a hedgerow with lots of other stuff, so it doesn’t dominate the way it would as a stand alone. It seems to get a little more floriferous each year.

  27. I often plants things for wildlife only to find they don’t come. My forsythia takes to sulking every few

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