When to Plant the First Flowers of Spring
The first flowers of spring have always been my favorites. The early blooms appear when it is still officially winter in many growing zones. A few days of balmy weather tends to swell the buds on early bloomers, creating a splash of vibrant or pastel color and bringing new life to a dreary, late winter world. Although the weather is unsettled and will probably turn cold again before true spring, there are several hardy varieties that can survive cold snaps. Becoming familiar with your growing zone and knowing when to plant these hardy varieties can help ensure a colorful early spring!
Planting Spring Flowers From Bulbs
Daffodils and Jonquils: The Narcissus family of bulb plants has hundreds and thousands of members. Some of the most well known are the Paper Whites, (popular for Christmas force blooming) Daffodils and Jonquils. The showy heads of Daffodils and Jonquils can appear as early as late January in temperate zones, and late February and March in less.
Daffodils and Jonquils are “twins” in the Narcissus bulb family with subtle differences in stems and petals.
Snowdrops: These hardy bulbs produce very early drooping white blossoms that are so hardy they often pop up through a late winter snowfall to resemble a dollop of snow, hence the name.
Crocuses and Hyacinths are also early blooming flowers that bloom from hardy bulbs. Tulips are fairly hardy but tend to bloom a bit later than the former Spring bulbs.
When to plant Spring bulbs: Fall is the ideal time. It is best to get them in the ground by mid-November. This will ensure proper time for root development for large and showy blooms. However, there are techniques for planting bulbs later in Fall or Early Winter. They may bloom later and be smaller, but as the saying goes, “better late than never.”
Hardiness Zone: Thrive as perennials in zones 3-8 and annuals in zones 9-11 when pre chilling bulbs
Spring Flower Bulb Care: The bulbs need to be planted before they dry out or not planted at all. Planting too soon in a temperate zone may cause them to rot before they grow. The bulbs need to experience a chilling period. Fertilize the ground below the bulbs before planting. Consider replacing the bulbs with new ones after two years.
Landscaping tips: These early flowers can be used in rock gardens, along fences, around trees or anywhere! Consider planting them in gardens that will host later spring or summer flowering bushes.
Check out these eight ideas for floral arrangments with daffodils and jonquils.
When to Plant Early Spring Flowering Shrubs
Early Spring flowering bushes are favorites because of the colorful blooms they produce before they even grow leaves. They light up the winter landscape with their bursts of color against a backdrop of still-brown branches! There are several hardy late-Winter-early Spring flowering shrubs that produce breathtaking blooms.
Forsythia: Tiny trumpet-shaped yellow blooms are among the first blooms for flowering shrubs. A little late Winter warmth will help these shrubs bud early. Not to worry! The hardy Forsythia doesn’t seem to mind a serious cold snap.
When to plant: Forsythia bought from a nursery with the root ball attached can be planted in early Fall or in Spring when the danger of freeze is over. Give them enough time to establish themselves in favorable weather. Established clumps can be divided in Spring after flowering. You can also start new plants from tip cuttings taken in Summer.
Hardiness zone: zones 5-8.
Caring for Forsythia: Wait one year after planting to fertilize and then add a slow-release granular fertilizer upon blooming.
Landscaping tip: Grow one to three singling as a central focus in a garden of early Spring bulbs. Let the bushes grow freely without pruning, or use as a hedge row and trim them to be box-shaped.
Flowering Quince: The bright dark pink blossoms of the flowering Quince also open before the leaves. The Quince shrub is available in white, pink and orange varieties. The thorny bushes have been used to surround farms in the past for protection from small animals that feast in gardens. They produce a bitter pear-shaped fruit that is sometimes used in jelly making.
When To Plant: Quince bushes can be purchased at a nursery with a root ball attached. Plant in Spring after hard freeze danger is past. Cuttings can be taken and rooted in July. Plant them in pots, protect them during the Winter and plant the following Spring.
Hardiness zone: zones 4-9.
Caring for Quince: Work organic composting into the soil before planting and prune after blooming.
Landscaping tips: As they are thorny, plant one or two separately at a sunny location to partial shade location. They can be used as a fence-like border hedge if you want the thorns.
Camellias: The various varieties of Camellias are super hardy and thrive in adverse conditions. Depending on the variety, they bloom from late fall to early spring. The profuse dark pink blooms are surrounded by dark glossy leaves.
When to plant: Plant Camellias at any time of the year in their hardiness zone.
Caring for Camellias: Practically no care required, but trimming them occasionally will reward you with loads of blooms.
Hardiness zone: zones 5-9, taking special care in coldest zones.
Landscaping tip: Plant Camellias close to the foundation of your home. They are perfect for camouflaging air-conditioning units or unsightly areas.
When to Plant Early Flowering Trees
Like shrubs, early flowering trees sprout their blooms before the leaves to give welcome color to blue or gray skies. Redbud, Bradford pear, and Japanese Magnolia are popular and hardy favorites.
Redbud : The Redbud tree grows all over most of the Eastern USA west to Texas and into Northeastern Mexico. Blooms are purplish pink. The red roots have been used in making dye, but they are mainly used as ornamental plants. The state tree of Oklahoma, they are popular for their hardiness and early blooms.
When to plant: Plant in early fall or early spring so a root system can become established in suitable weather.
Hardiness zone: zones 4-10.
Caring for Redbud trees: grows best in moist soil with a slow release fertilizer. Check for insects and diseases and seek proper treatment such as Horticultural Oil, Bug Buster or Trounce.
Landscaping tips: Grow singly or in a streetscape.
Bradford Pear Trees: Not to be confused with Bartlett pears, the Bradford pear tree is only an ornamental tree producing no edible fruit. A grouping of Bradford Pear trees in bloom on the late winter landscape gives the illusion of snow covered branches making this tree a favorite of many. However, there are some who have given this tree a bad rap claiming that the branches break off easily. They claim that suckers sprout easily making mowing lawns difficult. Glimpsing around neighborhoods in early Spring, they appear to be rather popular!
When to plant: late summer to early fall
Growing zones: zones 6-9.
Caring for Bradford Pear: Water well when young. Fertilize with phosphorus. Remove weak branches frequently.
Landscaping tips: Plant singly or sparingly in rows along driveways.
Japanese Magnolia: The Japanese Magnolia has beautiful saucer shaped flowers in pretty pink (most common) yellow or white that appear long before the leaves. Fairly hardy, they will produce lots of blooms in early Spring and may bloom into early June in more northern zones. If nipped by a hard early freeze, blooms will be more sparse. The blooms fade rather quickly, lasting about three days.
When to plant: plant in either spring or fall.
Landscaping tips: leave ample rooms for trees to spread away from buildings and utility wires.
Caring for Japanese Magnolia: plant in well drained soil, full sun or partial shade. fertilize.
Planning for Late Spring Flowers
It is often said less is more. Imagine if every variety of spring flowers were in bloom at the same time-not to mention summer and autumn flowers as well! It would be a “flowery world” we lived in.
No matter what zone you reside in, Mother Nature has planned a time schedule to let us enjoy her flower show one act at a time-from early spring until late fall. If we work along side her wisely and schedule our planting times we can sit back and enjoy the long show!
In the photo below, the long-lasting Camellia finally begins to close her act. She sheds her pretty pink dress and prepares for resting through the warmer temperatures with cool green leaves.
Coming up soon will be another favorite, the Azalea. Azalea shrubs have beautiful clusters of flowers in an array of colors from white, shades of pink, red and purple. All species of Azaleas that grow in North America are deciduous, meaning that they shed their leaves in the fall and lie dormant. This dormancy period is crucial for a healthy shrub that will produce flowers.
In Asia, the Azalea is evergreen and does not go through a dormant period. They must be planted in temperant climates. The blossoms of Asian Azaleas are the same as the deciduous ones.
When to plant: zones 4-5: plant in early Spring ideally and use Fall as a second option
zones 6-8: can plant anytime
zone 9 and above: plant only in the fall (to avoid root rot in warmer soil)
Hardiness zones: see above.
Caring for Azaleas: provide a shady spot in slightly acidic soil with good drainage. Use mulch around the bushes. Pruning after blooming is critical.
Landscaping tips: Keep in mind that Azaleas do best in shade. Plant a grouping around trees using two or three complimentary shades for a stunning visual effect.