Forsythia Pruning: Before and After

– Posted in: Forsythia
23 comments
Forsythia before pruning began

Forsythia before pruning began

Back in April, I discussed my upcoming plans to prune my forsythia bush. It wasn’t flowering very much, and my commenters agreed with me that it needed a heavy pruning. Some even suggested cutting the whole thing down to the ground. But I felt a little too nervous to do that.

Cutting it down to size

On May 13th, less than two weeks after the forsythia finished blooming, I decided to drastically thin it. I asked my son Collin to do the actual cutting, because I really don’t have the upper body strength for a long stint of pruning with loppers, and I don’t have the flexibility to get inside a shrub like that without paying for it for a week afterward. And besides, it was Mother’s Day.

At the top of this post, you see what the shrub looked like before the pruning. If you look carefully, you might be able to discern Collin’s white shirt near the bottom of the shrub, as he was getting ready to make the first cut when I realized I needed a before picture. I asked him to cut everything that was 3/4″ (approx. 2 cm) in diameter or larger. He pruned out all of this:

Pile of branches pruned from forsythia

All these branches were cut from one overgrown forsythia

And the forsythia looked like this:

Image of severely pruned forsythia

This is what it looked like after the pruning was done

Hardly encouraging.

Growing Back Nicely

Don’t let it scare you. My shrub is growing back nicely.

Image of forsythia with new growth after pruning

Look at all that thick new growth! (Photo taken June 30th)

Those branches coming out every which way are the ones that were not pruned out in May. They still have leaves on the tips, but have not really made new side branches along their length. I’m wondering if I should have taken them out. If the whole shrub flowers next spring, I will definitely cut them out. (Or should I say, “have one of my kids cut them out,” since that’s probably what will happen.) But if they are the only branches that bloom next year, I will be glad to have left them in. Update: Just found this great tutorial on pruning forsythias.

What scary pruning job have you tackled? How did it turn out?

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Lynne Gawlas August 12, 2011, 11:43 am

Hi from a novice forsythia gardener. My new plant is healthy looking but it is putting out long branches along the ground. Is this normal? There are some small branches starting to come up from the middle. I think I’m going to have to open up the area where I planted it. Should I do anything about the branches on the ground?

Kathy Purdy August 12, 2011, 2:38 pm

Hi, Lynne. You didn’t mention what variety of forsythia you had or how much room you had allotted for it. Different cultivars have different growing habits. Long branches along the ground might be typical for your variety. They do tend to root whenever a branch touches the ground. Many of the common forsythia varieties can easily get 5 to 6 feet wide and tall. If you didn’t give yours that much room, the long branches may just be the forsythia trying to achieve its normal size.

Lynne Gawlas August 16, 2011, 12:24 am

Kathy, Thanks for the pointers. I chickened out and pruned the really long branches that were crawling along the ground. They still look healthy and in fact they seem to be lifting up off the ground. I can keep giving them room, as I planted it where there is a lot of available space. For now I put some bamboo sticks 3 feet from the planting to try to keep the dogs out so the plants get a start without dealing with dog urine.

mary September 16, 2009, 1:32 am

i planted snapdragons in my yard the same time i planted impations and geraniums and they are just now starting to bloom.[sept15 wisconsin] isnt that strange?

Kathy Purdy September 16, 2009, 7:52 pm

My snapdragons did the same thing. My sweet peas are 6 foot vines but have never bloomed. I have an Oriental poppy in bud right now. There has been a lot of strange plant behavior this year.

mary September 16, 2009, 1:28 am

i didnt do any pruning this spring cause i didnt know if i should. now it sept 15 and it is tall and scraggly but has a lot of green leaves on it. so do i prune it now or wait for spring?

Kathy Purdy September 16, 2009, 7:51 pm

Wait for spring, otherwise you will stimulate new growth this fall which will just get killed off.

Sally North July 1, 2009, 11:45 am

Thank you for your pictures on pruning Forsythia. I planted about 6 1 and half feet in my backyard 2 summers ago and they are really taking off. I had my first bloom last year. This year May 2009, I noticed that the new growth of green stalks were almost as tall as me! About 5 feet now. They almost look like weeds and if I had not planted the plants myself I would swear it was. I kept the store tag on them so no once would pull them out of the ground. I even check to make sure that they were attached to the plant that is how much growth has happenend. The area that I planted 4 have taken over the other bushes I placed in front of them. I plan this weeked – July 4th to really get in there and move the plants around. I read on another site that the plants like sun and moist land. Because I am a new gardener I have had to take my time finding out which plant, tree and flowers work in my front and backyard. The Forsythia is a wonderful green plant that I am going to make a border row and even try an arch now that I know it likes my soil and yard. Next I need to figure out about those Raspberry Trees. Thanks for your pictures and info.

Kathy Purdy July 12, 2007, 6:50 pm

I remembered your enthusiastic comment. It never occurred to me that you weren’t familiar with them. What variety did you get?

The County Clerk July 12, 2007, 12:26 pm

I thought maybe I should mention to you that when you posted about Forsythia early, early spring I was so intriqued that when, later in the year when I dug my own yard, I put 3 Forsythia in. I’ve never seen these bloom (they are not from where I am from) but I have faith. Can’t wait till spring.

layanee July 11, 2007, 9:37 pm

Kathy: I really didn’t mean to sound bossy but I’m glad you’re going to trim! LOL 🙂 Pruning is a very satisfying job isn’t it. Oh, especially when you can direct someone else in the actual pruning!

Kathy Purdy July 11, 2007, 6:31 pm

Robin, most forsythia look like sticks when you get them. If you check out that link I appended to this post, you’ll learn that they do a lot of growing once they get to your home. If you do some research, there are some low growing ones out there, and even one meant to be a ground cover, I think. My choices are more limited because not many forsythia are bud hardy in my climate.

Kathy Purdy July 11, 2007, 6:29 pm

Marie, I didn’t know you could wait until the 4th of July. I usually don’t want to be pruning by then anyway.

Kathy Purdy July 11, 2007, 6:27 pm

Yes, ma’am, Layanee! Actually, my loppers broke while Collin was doing the pruning; he had to finish with a pruning saw. I’ve got a new blade for the loppers on back order. When it arrives I will dispatch of the stragglers forthwith!

Robin (Bumblebee) July 11, 2007, 4:05 pm

I have two yellow climing roses that must be hacked back three or four times a year. I love them in May when they are blooming, but the rest of the time they look like aliens, sending out antennae in odd directions. They are in my Colonial theme garden and I have often considered digging them up and putting them somewhere where they would be less obtrusive.

How are are these forsythia? Many folks around here in Maryland have them, but the ones I find in the garden centers look like twigs.

–Robin (Bumblebee)

Marie FKA Piana Nanna July 11, 2007, 9:50 am

I prune my forsythia every year. As long you wait until it’s finished flowering in the spring as you did and don’t cut back again after July 4th, in my area which is zone 5, you’re just fine. Prune away!

layanee July 10, 2007, 8:26 pm

Prune out those ratty ends now! You will have flowers next year on the new growth! I’m going to bet on it! NO FEAR! They call me Layanee Scissorhands! I haven’t killed a plant yet…well, not from pruning anyway! LOL

Carol July 10, 2007, 7:13 pm

I cut some overgrown spirea down to the ground this spring and they came back looking better than ever. They are 18″ high now and well-shaped. I think I’ll do it again in a couple of years, rather than try to shape them each year and keep them to a manageable size.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Ted B July 10, 2007, 6:05 pm

One of the gardens I work at has about 120 feet of alpine currant hedging. I’d guess it is 30 years old and had been heavily sheared several times a year before I started working there. The whole hedge was severely infected with powdery mildew that I decided was do to all the shearing.

I had a tree service come in and cut the whole thing doing to the ground in early spring. That year it did little, I smiled at my clients and told them not to worry (I did enough worrying for all of us). Years 2 and 3 it looked good. No foliar disease, little pruning required. Now, in year 4, it’s a little too shaggy and is a little too tall. I’ll have to start shearing and hope to stay ahead of the mildew.

firefly July 10, 2007, 5:34 pm

I murdered a rhodie on the front corner of my house. I don’t know how old it is, or what cultivar, but the main trunks were at least 6′ tall and about 2″ thick, several were crossing, and there were no leaves below about the first 1.5′.

Lo and behold, I discovered three other rhodies concealed beneath it that were more or less shaded out and creeping along the ground.

The whole assembly, with a lilac behind it that I also trimmed severely, looks much nicer now — it has more balance, rather than appearing as a hulking menace of foundation plants. The first rhodie is about half the size and has put out new shoots to fill in the middle.

I don’t know if I’ll let the creepers stay; they haven’t bloomed since we moved in and they had a lot of winter damage and really spindly stems, and there are so many rhododendrons in the front yard to begin with I’m thinking of replacing them with a Kolkwitzia.