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. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

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