The First Flowers to Bloom in Spring

Mix Colors, Sizes for Best Springtime Pop

Adonis flowers blooming in a mass upon feathery foliage.
Adonis provides your garden with a cheerful yellow. David Beaulieu

The first flowers to bloom in spring are treasured tokens of winter's end. Your plant selection should aim not only at including such delights in your garden but also at achieving the best variety possible. Variety can be achieved both by using different colors and by growing plants of different heights. Select early-bloomers from the following groups (organized by height) to force the viewer to change eye-level, thereby creating the most visual interest in your landscape:

  • 01 of 13
    Creeping phlox flowers with pink in middle and white at edges.
    okyela/Getty Images

    Phlox subulata is a ground cover that is best appreciated when grown in masses on a slope. Its flowers can be reddish, white, blue, pink, rose, lavender, purple, and variegated. It stays short at just 6 inches tall (with a 2-foot width).

  • 02 of 13
    Vinca minor ground cover in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    Vinca minor is a vine plant used as a ground cover to border shade gardens or fill in a problem area (for example, when you want to plant under a tree). It requires little care but is an invasive plant in some regions.

    The plants typically stand only 3 to 6 inches off the ground, but their trailing stems can spread out 18 inches. The flowers can be lavender, purple, white, or blue. The plants with blue flowers are the most popular.

  • 03 of 13
    Winter jasmine blooms.
    David Beaulieu

    The flower buds of Jasminum nudiflorum are yellow and red, but, when opened, they reveal yellow flowers. If you give this plant something to climb on, it'll act as a vine and climb up 15 feet. Otherwise, it'll act more like a shrub and reach 4 feet in height with a spread of 7 feet. Wherever the branches make contact with the soil, they'll root, which is handy if you wish to use the plant as a ground cover. If such spreading doesn't fit into your landscape plan, keep the plant pruned back.

  • 04 of 13

    Adonis and Winter Aconite

    Winter aconite in bloom pushing through snow.
    Winter aconite blooms so early it sometimes pushes through snow.

    Wilfried Martin/Getty Images

    Adonis and winter aconite are similar. Both are in the Ranunculaceae family, bloom in yellow, stand less than 1 foot tall, grow in zones 3 to 7, and are among the first flowers to bloom in spring. But whereas Adonis amurensis Fukujukai is an herbaceous perennial, winter aconite (Eranthus hyemalis) is a bulb plant. The latter also lacks the feathery leaves that characterize Adonis. 

    Due to their similarities, choose one or the other if you garden in a small space. Adonis is the better choice because its foliage is more attractive.

    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13
    Mass of Virginia bluebells flowering in the woods.
    Virginia bluebell is a woodland flower.

    Dennis Govoni/Getty Images

    Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica) gives you another choice in blue. This shade perennial is indigenous to North America and suited to zones 3 to 8. It shares these traits with Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

    Both are spring ephemerals: Above-ground growth vanishes in summer. Since their disappearance leaves a void in your planting bed, grow hostas as companion plants to take their place.

    Virginia bluebell reaches as much as 2 feet in height (it's taller than it is wide). It's related to Italian bugloss (Anchusa azurea) but has nothing to do with Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides).

    Dutchman's breeches has white blooms and grows 6 to 12 inches tall and wide. Related to bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), it has feathery foliage, in contrast to the oblong leaves of Virginia bluebell.

  • 06 of 13
    Lenten roses with light-pink flowers.

     aimintang/Getty Images

    Helleborus orientalis has sepals in red, pink, lavender, purple, blue, yellow, and even greenish. Because this color occurs on sepals (not petals), it's long-lasting. Add to this the shiny, leathery, evergreen leaves, and you have a perennial that offers interest beyond the initial early blooming period. It becomes 18 to 24 inches tall and wide. Its common name comes from the fact that it flowers around Lent in some regions.

  • 07 of 13
    Pasque flowers partially opened.

    Svetl/Getty Images

    Pulsatilla vulgaris is a short perennial (8 to 12 inches) that will eventually spread. Like Lenten rose, its common name alludes to a religious holiday of early spring: Easter, which is Pasque in Old French. The lavender color of the flowers fits right into an Easter color scheme. But, happily, the Easter bunny will leave them alone because they're rabbit-proof

  • 08 of 13
    Closeup of snowdrop flower.

    Laszlo Podor/Getty Images

    Galanthus nivalis is almost synonymous with the earliest flowers to bloom in spring. A short bulb plant (3 to 6 inches), it'll naturalize over time and spread to fill in an area. But its white flowers are small, so, for immediate impact, plant them in masses.

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13
    Crocus blooms in early spring, even if there's still snow.
    David Beaulieu

    Crocus vernus and related plants are also bulb plants ("corms," technically) that flower early in spring. The color is commonly yellow, gold, purple, white, lavender, or bi-colored. At just 3 to 6 inches tall, crocus stays short like snowdrops. Birds and ​rabbits eat them, so protect them with BirdBlock mesh (buy on Amazon).

     

  • 10 of 13
    Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Aurora') flowers in yellow and orange.

    Sue Bishop/Getty Images

    Hamamelis x intermedia Arnold Promise flowers before any other bushes (not counting winter heath, which blossoms in November and retains flowers right through winter). It may bloom at the tail end of winter or the beginning of spring (before forsythia). This shrub matures to 12 feet tall and wide.

  • 11 of 13
    Forsythia branch in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    When its cheerful yellow flowers grace the arching branches of Forsythia intermedia, we know winter has fully retired for another year. The Sunrise cultivar of this shrub stays more compact than many other types, reaching 4 to 6 feet in height, with a spread of 3 to 5 feet.

     

  • 12 of 13
    Flowering almond in bloom.

    JTGrafix/Getty Images 

    Prunus glandulosa is a shrub with pink flowers. With pruning, you can easily keep its size at 3 feet x 3 feet. Flowers precede foliage. Don't confuse it with the plant that bears almond nuts (Prunus dulcis).

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13
    Star magnolia in bloom.
    Star magnolia is a small flowering tree.

    Whiteway/Getty Images

    Magnolias are among the earliest flowering trees each year to produce their spring flowers. Star magnolia stays shorter (15 to 20 feet) than saucer magnolia (20 to 25 feet) and blooms the earliest. Star magnolia has white flowers, unlike the saucer kind and Jane magnolia, both of which bloom in pink. Jane (10 to 15 feet x 8  to 12 feet) can be grown as a shrub or tree. 

Some Flowers Are as Impatient for Spring as You Are

When the snow recedes, gardeners want color in the yard as quickly as possible. The early-bloomers are willing to oblige, but don't pick them willy-nilly. Instead, mix things up by selecting plants of varying sizes and flower colors. This will create optimal interest and give you the best-looking landscape possible during the special season that is early spring.