Forsythia buds killed by sub zero winter air


 We should've known in a coldest-ever winter, to pick a hardier branch for forcing spring.

We should've known better! We decided to force a branch from a shrub to show our granddaughter that winter would not go on forever. "The trees and flowers are just sleeping! See all these buds on the branches? The leaves are inside there and they will wake up and grow when it gets warm."

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Forsythia reliable - not!

Forsythia seemed the perfect branch to force. We know it can work... the buds pop open and resume growing after about 10 days in a warm house in a vase.


As a bonus, there would be flowers! Oh boy!

Wrong. How could we forget that the temperature had dropped to nearly 20

degrees below zero earlier this winter?! Most forsythias are not flower bud hardy when it's that cold. The flower buds die, although leaf buds are
fine. Thus, in the coming spring most forsythias hereabouts will disappoint -- bloom only very low down from buds on portions of branches that were under snow cover during the coldest times.

Here are our forsythia cuttings, ten days after we cut them. (We changed the water every day, and after about 5 days also made sure to keep the branches in the light.)

Scroll down to see a close up explanation and see what to look for to find out now whether your forsythia will have a bloom or bust spring.

Hardier candidates

Ah well. Another year, we'll have glorious forsythia. (The photos of the forsythia shrubs in bloom, below and in our Spring Color guide, were taken following mild winters that spared every forsythia bud.)

For right now, we can go clip some quince or cherry to force. They're flower bud hardy!

A few forsythia varieties have been selected for greater flower bud hardiness. The old standby, Forsythia x intermedia 'Linwood Gold' is not to be depended on. Put your money on University of Minnesota's forsythia introductions, 'Northern Sun' and 'Northern Gold' or University of North Dakota's 'Meadowlark' and 'Sunrise'.

Flower bud hardiness isn't the only thing that varies between forsythia varieties. The yellow flowers range from gold to lighter yellow. For instance, most listed in this article are bright yellow, but 'Northern Gold' and 'Lynwood' are more gold.

Below: Bright yellow and gold comparisons. When shrubs are grown as individuals or whole sections of a hedge are different varieties  the color differences may be more apparent than when various yellows are randomly mixed in a hedge.

Forsythia2cvsBlm6967s.jpg Forsythia2cvsBlm6970s.jpg ForsythiaFlBlmHdgN4128s.jpg

If the exact tone makes a difference, such as when you mean to match an existing hedge, always read the plant's catalog description or nursery tag before you buy.

ForsythiaFullBlmHdgN4139s.jpg Forsythia2cvHedgeN4135s.jpg

Forsythia buds, exposed

Below, left: See the big fat buds that are NOT sprouting? Those are the flower buds. At each node on the branch that was mature enough last summer to produce flowers -- a node is the place where leaves form -- there are four buds in two pairs. One of each pair is a flower bud.

Sure, they look okay. However, cut one open to learn the whole story.

Below, right: We took one flower bud off the branch and sliced it as if it was a pear. See the dead tip? That was the flower, intact until air temperature fell below zero.

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