Whether or not you enjoy winter, by late winter almost everyone gets the winter doldrums. Those first hints of spring color are welcomed by all! When designing a landscape, it’s a great idea to ensure that there will be color throughout the season. Here are our top picks for early to mid-spring!
Spring Flowering Bulbs
It’s impossible to beat spring-flowering bulbs. Most are incredibly tough, enduring the occasional late snow without missing a beat. Some will even push through the snow to bloom! The classic snowdrops are famous for doing this, as are the giant Dutch crocus. Both will naturalize and spread slowly. Crocus tommasinianus, commonly known as tommy crocus, have smaller flowers. They will naturalize and spread more rapidly than the giant Dutch crocus. All will grow in part shade to full sun.
Daffodils are another well-known classic. That strong, bright yellow of the ‘Dutch Master’ variety is what most of us equate with spring. But daffodils have far more varieties than just the classic yellow! ‘Mount Hood’ is an excellent white large-flowered variety; there are split cup, miniature, double, and even varieties with pink centers. Daffodil varieties have various bloom times, so you can choose several varieties for the longest bloom time.
Hyacinths are another classic bulb, available in various shades of white, pink, blue, and purple. Their large flowers make a statement! Be aware that they have a strong fragrance and may not be the best choice for cut flowers inside, particularly if you have allergies.
Evergreen Shrubs Also Make Great Spring Landscapes
When discussing color for spring landscapes, don’t forget evergreens! Yes, green is still a color... and is a soothing, calming counterpoint to bright flowering shrubs. And they don’t just come in a dark green... evergreen shrubs may have white, yellow, blue, light green, dark green, or any combination of these colors! Evergreens are divided into two groups, broadleaf and conifers.
Broadleaf evergreens have a wider leaf as their name suggests. Examples include boxwood, hollies, and certain azaleas. When choosing boxwood. be sure to select varieties resistant to boxwood blight! Our favorites include ‘Dee Runk’, which has a tall, narrow form, and ‘Little Missy’ for a low rounded shrub. Hollies are available in many shapes and forms as well; ‘Red Beauty’ is a compact tree form that we often use. ‘Red Beauty’ is great when we need height in a narrow space. Some broadleaf evergreens also flower; pieris japonica is one of the most common with its white or pink flowers. For some pieris varieties such as ‘Mountain Fire’, the new growth is red and offers color even after the flowers have faded. In general, broadleaf evergreens are tolerant of shade.
Coniferous evergreens have needles and include such classics as pine, hemlock, and spruce. Again, this is a diverse group that may range from towering trees to small rounded shrubs or even weeping forms. We especially like the weeping white spruce, again because it offers some height without becoming too wide. Its gracefully weeping form is also an asset! Keep in mind that conifers are less tolerant of shade, and will often become sparse when grown in shade. In particular, the lower branches of spruce and pine will die when grown in shade.
This is a huge group! For early spring, a classic is a forsythia with its bright yellow flowers. And it’s hard to beat that impact! However, forsythia doesn’t offer any food for pollinators, grows rapidly, and doesn’t fit well in smaller gardens. Fothergilla has white bottlebrush flowers and is great for pollinators; its rounded leaves may be green or bluish-green and turn vibrant shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple in the fall. My favorite variety is ‘Blue Shadow’ for its powdery blue foliage.
Witch hazel usually has yellow or orange flowers, and may be found flowering as early as January! It is usually a large shrub and will flower even when grown in shade. Azaleas may be evergreen or deciduous and is a classic flowering shrub that may be found in many professional landscaping projects.
If there was just one kind of flowering tree in my garden, it would have to be a cercis or redbud! Buds are a reddish color (hence the name) and form tightly against the branches. Flowers are purple, pink, or white. The native variety is frequently seen growing at the edge of woodlands and has green heart-shaped foliage. But redbuds are so diverse... there are weeping forms as well as upright, and my favorite is ‘Ruby Falls’. Oh yes, foliage colors may range from the traditional green to the yellow of ‘Rising Sun’ to the burgundy of ‘Ruby Falls’ or ‘Forest Pansy’. And there’s even the more compact shrub form such as ‘Don Egolf’!
Dogwoods are another classic, and the white Cornus florida is native to our area and can be found growing at the edge of woodlands. ‘Cherokee Prince’ is a great pink version of this. All of these will bloom before the leaves emerge in the spring. There are now newer varieties that have larger flowers or more compact growth habits.
Ornamental fruit trees are also hard to miss; flowering cherries are available in weeping or upright forms. Plums and crabapples offer various colors, forms, and sizes too... you can find something that will fit even in compact spring landscapes!
Perennials will come back year after year, with no need to replant like annuals! They offer color starting in the early spring all the way to late fall, but we’ll focus on just early spring flowering types here. For shade gardens, hellebores are hands down the most frequently used in our spring landscapes! They tolerate dry conditions when established, and are absolutely deer-proof. Since their foliage is poisonous, no critters will touch them (don’t worry, pets aren’t attracted to them). Colors range from white, yellow, pink, purple, and black and may be single or double. Best of all, in a mild year they may start blooming in January! Typical bloom season, though, is about 6-7 weeks with peak bloom in March and April.
Epimedium is a slow-spreading groundcover, with dainty white, yellow, pink, or lavender flowers that emerge before the foliage. Foliage is heart-shaped, and new growth is often bronzed. It is tolerant of very dry shady conditions when established. Brunnera has rounded foliage which may be variegated and intense blue flowers.
Phlox subulata is the creeping form that covers itself in a blanket of blossoms. Phlox divaricata, or woodland phlox, is a native plant with blue or lavender flowers. Dicentra, or bleeding heart, is another classic perennial found in historic gardens. Newer varieties offer more compact forms and even yellow foliage.
Get Started on Your Spring Landscapes Today
In summary, landscapes can and should have color in all seasons! A well-planned spring landscape will need to account for soil types, drainage, and other site conditions. Deer and other critters can be a challenge as well, and resistant plant selections should be made if those pests are an issue in your garden. Don’t forget to make it truly yours! If there’s a plant with sentimental value, see if you can’t find a spot to include it!