Deb, Welcome to A Way to Garden. Nice to see you here. The good news: Forsythia is something of a weed, meaning you probably can’t kill it no matter when you prune. That said, why prune before it finishes flowering, and waste its one real ornamental moment of the year. After bloom, forsythia is pretty non-descript. To rejuvenate and thicken up old forsythia, prune just after it finishes flowering, cutting out the oldest stems at the base to allow vigorous younger ones to fill in. You may want to feed it as well, with an all-natural organic fertilizer labeled for flowering shrubs. If you want a hedge that’s formally shaped, you’d have to shear it, too, once you have enough vigorous stems to work with–like with a hedge shears–and indeed you can make balls and cubes and blocks out of forsythia, but I think it’s nicer a little bit looser (though not thin and scraggly). If your inherited forsythia is in the deep shade because nearby trees have grown up over the years and landed it in the dark, that may also account for the scraggly habit. Flowering shrubs, including forsythia, can be sparse in too much shade. Perhaps some pruning of nearby limbs will also be on the to-do list? Margaret
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Welcome! I’m Margaret Roach, a leading garden writer for 25 years—at ‘Martha Stewart Living,’ ‘Newsday,’ and in three books. I host a public-radio podcast; I also lecture, plus hold tours at my 2.3-acre Hudson Valley (NY) Zone 5B garden, and always say no to chemicals and yes to great plants.