How to Grow Abeliophyllum — White Forsythia

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Abeliophyllum–commonly called white forsythia– is a small deciduous shrub grown for its fragrant early-spring flowers. Abeliophyllum is not a true forsythia, but it blooms at the same time as forsythia in very early spring. Flower buds are less likely to be killed by late frosts than those of true forsythia.

Abeliophyllum is an open, spreading shrub. It grows to about 5 feet (1.5m) tall and wide. Flowers appear ahead of leaves. Abeliophyllum bears masses of small (1/2 inch) slightly fragrant flowers densely packed on arching branches. Oval, blue-green leaves appear by summer.

Grow Abeliophyllum in a sunny border or plant it near a warm wall. Abeliophyllum can also be planted in mass.

Abeliophyllum is a genus of one species native to the hills of Korea.

Get to know Abeliophyllum

  • Plant type: Deciduous shrub
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 5-9
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 5
  • Height and width: 3 to 5 feet (1-1.5m) tall and wide
  • Foliage: Oval 1- to 2-inch blue-green leaves
  • Flowers: 4-petaled, cross-shaped fragrant 1/2 inch flowers in axillary racemes before leaves appear; flowers appear on the previous year’s growth.
  • Flower color: White, sometimes pink tinged
  • Bloom time: Late winter, early spring
  • Uses: Shrube border, planted in mass
  • Common name: White forsythia, Korean abelialeaf
  • Botanical name: Abeliohyllum distichum
  • Family name: Oleaceae
  • Origin: Korea

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Abeliophyllum, white forsythia, blooming in early spring
Abeliophyllum, white forsythia, blooming in early spring

Where to plant Abeliophyllum

  • Grow Abeliophyllum in full sun or light shade.
  • Plant Abeliophyllum in humus-rich, well-drained soil.
  • Abeliophyllum blooms before spring weather turns warm, so the plant’s bloom time can be appreciated indoors.

When to plant Abeliophyllum

  • Set container-grown Abeliophyllum outdoors in spring or fall

Planting and spacing Abeliophyllum

  • Space Abeliophyllum 3 to 5 feet (1-1.5m) apart.
  • Plany Abeliophyllum where early flowers are protected from harsh, cold wind.

How to water and feed Abeliophyllum

  • Keep the soil evenly moist for the best growth and blooms.
  • Fertilize Abeliophyllum with an all-purpose, organic fertilizer in spring.

Abeliophyllum care

  • After blooming, cut back stems to strong buds near the ground to encourage a denser, fountain-like shape.
  • Flowers form on the previous season’s growth, so do not prune until after the flowers fade.

Abeliophyllum pests and diseases

  • Abeliophyllum is usually not bothered by pests or diseases.

Abeliophyllum propagation

  • Propagate Abeliophyllum from softwood cuttings or by layering in late spring.
  • Semi-hardwood cuttings of more mature growth can be taken in mid- or late-summer.

Abeliophyllum varieties to grow

  • Abeliophyllum distichum, white forsythia. Grows to 5 feet tall and wide with open, spreading habit; cross-shaped fragrant flowers appear in late winter or spring before the plant leafs out. Cultivar ‘Roseum’ has pink flowers.

Abeliophyllum frequently asked questions

Q: Abeliophyllum is known as white forsythia. Is it a true forsythia?

A: No, forsythia is another genus. White forsythia, also known as Korean abelialeaf, bears masses of white flowers in early spring at the same time as true forsythias.

Q: My white forsythia is not always white. Why is that?

A: White forsythia are at first pale pink, but the pink quickly fades to white with orange centers. The plant has deep purple buds through the winter. You can cut the budded stems in midwinter and they will easily bloom indoors.

Q: Should I prune white forsythia in autumn?

A: No. Flowers form on the previous season’s growth, not on new growth. Prune Abeliophyllum after the flowers fade in late spring.

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Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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