Plant Hardiness Zones 5-8
|Full – Partial|
|Moist – Well Drained|
|Forsythia x intermedia ‘Mindor’|
One sign of a really talented gardener is a layout that uses sequential blooming to keep the scene colorful for as much of spring, summer and fall as possible. It’s all about looking at the times plants come into flower to make sure there’s always something interesting going on, and it’s very much an art. It’s far from impossible because there’s such a wide selection of plants available, including spectacular varieties that start blossoming in late spring and carry on right through until the first frost strips the petals away, but there are some tricky times. One of these is late winter and early spring, when the weather has warmed slightly but there’s still a risk of a late frost. Most plants have evolved to hold off flowering until that risk has gone entirely, but there are a brave few that will take the chance. Planting these will get your garden off to a flying start every year. One of the most impressive is the forsythia aptly named “Show Off”.
Forsythias are a family of flowering shrubs in the olive family, which are generally found in eastern Asia; most species grow wild in China, Korea and Japan. There is one exception, which is native to Serbia and Albania. They’re relatively small flowering shrubs that generally grow to a height of between three and ten feet, although they can occasionally reach as high as 20 feet, and are highly unusual in that they produce flowers in spring before they grow new foliage. This has made them prized among gardeners and many attractive new varieties have been created; Show Off, though, is one of our favorites.
Show Off is classed as a cross, with the botanical name Forsythia × intermedia, but in fact it’s a naturally occurring mutation of the intermedia variety “Fiesta”. The result is a mid-sized shrub that grows to between three and six feet high and about the same across. It’s known for its exuberant growth and upright spread, and will enliven your garden all summer with attractive dark green leaves up to around three and a half inches long, but its real attraction ill show itself even before the leaves. Most shrubs produce new foliage in early spring, then start blossoming a few weeks later, but not this one. The first thing to happen when it awakens from its winter sleep is an eruption of bright yellow, funnel-shaped flowers. This display is truly spectacular, and usually covers the entire plant from March to April. Only when it fades do the leaves appear, but by that time more timid shrubs have usually begin to flower as well and your garden will remain bright and colorful.
This variety is rated as suitable for USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 8, so while it’s not suitable for the areas with the very hardest winters or long, dry summers you can successfully grow it across most of the continental USA. As long as you’re not in northern New England, the Deep South or the coldest parts of the Midwest you shouldn’t find any climate-related problems. Just find a spot with medium-moist and well-drained soil. For the best results choose somewhere that gets full sunlight. Show Off can tolerate partial shade but the flowers may be less prolific, and as its blooming habits are the main attraction that wouldn’t be good. If you do have a dry spell make sure to water it regularly; it doesn’t need a lot, but you’ll need to make sure the root zone doesn’t dry out.
Like most forsythias Show Off is a fairly low maintenance plant. It has no major pest or disease problems, although leaf spot and crown gall may occasionally trouble it – regular checks should catch these issues before they become too serious. It also tolerates urban conditions very well, so makes a good choice for brightening up a city garden. Whether or not to prune is up to you. It isn’t usually necessary except to remove dead branches but the plant can tolerate it very well. It can be extensively shaped, including as a hedge, or you can periodically cut it right back to the ground to encourage new growth.
Thanks to its size Show Off makes a very versatile shrub. It’s ideal for foundation planting, or a group of them can be used to add color to a rockery or border. It does particularly well on south-facing slopes, so if your garden includes features like this consider massing these plants there. A row of them will also make for a truly spectacular hedge – its tolerance of pruning come sin very useful there. Of course the main reason for planting it is to take advantage of its early blooming but don’t overlook its other qualities – you can do a lot with this variety. The flowers are astonishingly bright and a whole bush of them makes for an unforgettable display that really will get your garden’s year off to the best possible start.