Friday, April 6, 2012

Forsythia UnCut

As a general rule, I prefer to allow my shrubs to grow according to their own natural manner.  Stated in another way, ProfessorRoush is quite derelict in his efforts to force unruly shrubs to grow in unnatural and restrained fashions.  Or, even more simply put, I detest topiary in any form and I really hate to prune shrubs. 

The result from these efforts, of course, is an informal, devil-may-care feeling for much of my garden, but occasionally even the best-behaved child needs a haircut lest the grandmother (or in the case of shrubs, Mrs. ProfessorRoush), think we are bad parents. 

Take the 'New Hampshire Gold' forsythia pictured above both pre- and post-bloom.  It had a very nice, prolific bloom this spring, but, as forsythia are prone to, once the flowers are gone, I've got an airy, messy green blob squatting on my landscape.  This year, one of my planned spring garden chores was to prune the forsythia, and along the way remove the many suckers threatening to spread the bush on into Nebraska.

So, I'll ask you to make the call.  Pre-pruning is on the right,  post-pruning from the same angle on the left below.  Did I do a good thing this spring, or did I capitulate to group-think and ruin the natural lines of the plant?  Should I have gone further and made a box turtle or an elephant out of the unshaped mass?  Mrs. ProfessorRoush has already weighed in and is definitely on the "haircut" side, but then, she always wants my garden to be neater than I'm prone to keep it.

Most important to ProfessorRoush, of course, will be the effect my pruning has for the next bloom of this shrub.  I'm hoping that the experts are right and the shrub fills in and has more bloom and is more compact.  Time, as always in a garden, will tell.


  1. Hmmm. In my garden, I've decided that the forsythia simply need to come out and give their space over to some more interesting plant. We have about 10; they are monsters trying to submerge the south side of my garage and I'm tired of their amorphous mass. They never seem to bloom all that well...and they are simply uninspiring the rest of the year.

    That said, the prettiest forsythia I've seen are the ones that are only pruned by removing the oldest branches down to the ground (which is always easier said than done, since they are in the very middle of the densest part of the shrub), allowing the shrub to form its natural arching vase form. Because that's so difficult, I very rarely seen truly gorgeous forsythia!

    Whatever you decide, good luck!

  2. Yes Gaia, I agree that the best way to cut them back would be to take out the central older stems. And I think I can do that with some of my other forsythia, 'Meadowlark' for example, which are stiffer-stemmed. But I'm not wading into the thicket that is 'New Hampshire Gold'.

    I maintain, as I wrote early in Garden Musings (the book), that if forsythia bloomed in mid-June, nobody would grow the off-color yellow-orangy things. They save themselves by being the first big bloomers in northern climates that are easy to grow.


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