10 March 2009

White Forsythia

Warm weather with temperatures in the 70's (low 20's C) last weekend (after a Monday snowstorm) has begun to bring out the white forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum) blooms. These four shrubs were some of the first plants selected and planted in my garden, after reading the enticing descriptions from Wayside Gardens, who no longer offers the shrubs.

The White Forsythia plant has a few desirable characteristics that make it worthy in the garden. First, the shrub blooms at crocus and witch hazel time, and before the common yellow variety. It comes out at the end of February to beginning of March around here - which is very early.

Once the plant gets going, the blossoms' strong scent that resembles lilacs or ginger can easily be detected from anywhere in the yard. Being planted near the front sidewalk, the perfume from these sweeties are noticed by the neighbors. A few stems of blossoms can perfume an entire room when brought indoors.

Before anyone rushes to buy, consider the characteristics that Wayside Gardens never told us about. First, because they bloom so early, unexpected cold weather can destroy the flowers before they ever come out. About once every five years, warm weather will coax the blossoms to start, then cold weather below 20 degrees (-7 C) kills all of them. Second, don't let the catalog photos fool you - the blossoms are quite small and fragile. They are about 1/8 to 1/4 inch (6 mm), a much smaller size than the yellow forsythia, each only slightly larger than a single lilac blossom. Third, when brought into the house as cut flowers, they last for only about two days and their scent can turn bad after this time.

After blooming, new growth forms sparse clumps of intertwined branches that cannot be controlled. Shaping the shrub is impossible. After a few years, I cut the plant down and it vigorously grows back with long single arching branches. The photo from this year shows the shrub 2-feet (60 cm) in height. Come springtime, these appear rather graceful. A tangled overgrown mess in other years does not.

Finally, the flowers are not pure white, but tend to pink. In fact, some branches will appear light pink, while others on the same plant will appear white. A confused plant.

For The Record:
  • Medium heavy soil
  • Full sun
  • No fertilizer, soil is mulched and shaded
  • Cut back every three years or so

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: White forsythia, snow crocus
  • Seed started: Peppers, broccoli, red onions (probably a bit late)


Nancy said...
These sound incredibly nice for an early spring plant to go with crocus colors. Thank you for sharing.
Gail said...
Beautiful shrub...a new one for me and a nice change from all the yellow! gail
Jan said...
very nice scenery. I love the vivid colors from those shrubs. thanks for sharing.
Southen California Gardening said...
Great post, and those pictures are breathtaking! Keep up the great work!