Why won't my forsythia grow upward?

Asked September 1, 2015, 5:08 PM EDT

Our forsythia got hammered in last fall's freeze, so this spring I cut it back to within 6 inches of the ground. Now the new shoots grow up about 18 inches and then turn down toward the ground rather than continuing to grow upward.

What happened, and can I take actions to have it grow up or should I just replace it?

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Jefferson County Colorado

1 Response

As you know, many shrubs and deciduous trees were damaged during the November freeze.

Deciduous woody plants undergo a two-stage process that allows them to withstand winter weather. The first stage is triggered by shorter days. During this stage, the plant converts leaf starch, proteins, and other complex molecules into soluble molecules, such as sugars and amino acids, and moves them into storage cells. The second stage is when woody plants form an abscission layer where the branch and the leaf connect. This abscission layer closes off this connection to the branch and protects the plant from drying out or invading diseases and it allows the leaf to fall. When the November freeze hit, many deciduous woody plants had not yet gone through the second stage, and they were much more susceptible to winter damage including twig death.

Your forsythia plant is stressed--that could explain the poor growth. I would recommend waiting to see if the plant flowers next spring. Spring-flowering shrubs bloom on one-year-old wood (twigs that grew new the previous summer). Buds develop in midsummer through fall for the following spring. Pruning in the fall and winter removes flowering wood with buds.