Spring weather is unpredictable, yet spring flowers are hardy enough to handle it. Your garden can be brimming with color almost as soon as the ground thaws.
The perennial flowers showcased here will start blooming as soon as spring makes itself known. Many can be planted outdoors even before the threat of frost is past. Others may need a bit of coddling, to begin with, but cool spring weather is when they shine, so do not miss out by waiting too long to plant them.
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Despite the tragic connotation, these flowers are like cheery little charms dangling down the length of each branch. Even the chubby-lobbed leaves are attractive, at least until the flowers start to fade.
Although bleeding hearts are a welcome sight in the spring, you had better look quickly. As the days lengthen and the temperature warms, bleeding heart starts to turn yellow and forlorn. It can even disappear entirely for the summer, as many spring ephemerals do. Do not let that stop you from growing it. Simply plant it near later emerging plants that will fill in the void as your bleeding hearts fade. Hosta, astilbe, and ferns are great choices as companions for your bleeding hearts.
- Growing conditions: Bleeding heart plants like moist, rich soil, that is also well draining. Its roots can rot in soil that remains wet for a prolonged period of time.
- Sun exposure: Partial shade is ideal, but it can handle a bit more sun if the temperature is cool and there is even moisture.
- Hardiness: U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 2 to 9
- Mature size: 24 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 30 inches wide
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Bloodroot is more of a groundcover than a bedding plant, its small, white flowers can really brighten a shady or woodland garden. After the flowers disappear, the blue-green leaves provide a nice foil for summer flowers and even make a nice carpet on their own. Bloodroot is not invasive and usually not even aggressive.
If can take several years for your bloodroot plants to become established and start to spread, but they are fairly long-lived. There are single and double-flowered varieties. The doubles are more expensive, but they are gorgeous.
- Growing conditions: Bloodroot's normal habitat is woodland, but it will feel right at home if you add a lot of organic matter to your soil. Leaf mold, the crumbly organic matter left by decayed leaves, is ideal for bloodroot. It will give the plant the moisture it needs, but the soil will still be well-draining, much like plants that live in forest soil.
- Sun exposure: The plant likes partial shade. Bloodroot can handle full sun in the spring, but it will need some shady cover during summer's heat.
- Hardiness: USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9
- Mature Size: 4 to 8 inches tall and 1 to 12 feet wide
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Lately, the heart-shaped leaves of Brunnera (also called false forget-me-nots or Siberian bugloss) have been getting more attention than its brilliant blue flowers. Several new cultivars of Brunnera have beautiful, creamy variegation. Whether you grow it for its flowers or foliage, this is an easy plant to care for.
Because this plant emerges so early in the spring, the leaves can get a bit tattered by summer. Simply cut them back, and new leaves will fill in. It is a slow growing plant, but it will eventually form a nice size clump. The species and stabilized varieties may self-seed, but the variegated varieties are slower to spread.
This species tends to be short-lived. To keep it around longer, divide the plants every three years or so. This will reinvigorate them.
- Growing conditions: Either plant Brunnera in your shade garden or under the shade of nearby taller plants. The blue flowers are very early in the spring, so by the time something like a daylily starts to grow, it will not hide the brunnera flowers, it will just protect the leaves.
- Sun exposure: As with so many spring bloomers, this plant can handle full sun in the spring, but it will do best in partial shade.
- Hardiness: USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9
- Mature size: 12 to 20 inches tall and 12 to 24 feet wide
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There is both a Christmas Rose and a Lenten Rose. Neither usually blooms on their respective holy days, except when weather is wacky like when El Niño is in full force. These flowers bloom as early in spring as they possibly can. Even the bearsfoot hellebore beats most other flowers.
These are slow growing perennials that can be very pricey to purchase. If you are not particular about the color, you can find seed packets of mixed blends. You will have to wait a few years for seed-grown hellebores to bloom, but once they are established they will be around for decades and they will slowly spread. They come in many shades of pink, purple, burgundy, and cream.
Many hellebores have nodding flowers that look somewhat sleepy and comforting in the garden. Hellebores are basically shade garden plants and they look fantastic paired with ferns and shiny-leaved plants such as ginger.
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- Growing conditions: Give your hellebores a shady spot and they should be happy. The only growing conditions they really cannot tolerate are excessively dry and excessively wet soils.
- Sun exposure: Partial shade to shade is ideal. If you plant them in a sunny spot, the leaves will dry and turn crispy when the temperature heats up.
- Hardiness: USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9
- Mature size: 1.5 to 2 feet tall and 1 to 1.5 feet wide
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This plant may not have the prettiest name, but it is a fabulous early spring flower. As with Brunnera, lungwort has beautiful flowers, but the emphasis lately has been on the flashy foliage. There are leaves that are dotted, speckled, and splashed with white and silver. Unfortunately, the plants tend to be ephemeral and fade away in the summer. The flowers hold their own intrigue. The white flowers remain clear white, while in bloom. But there are also flowers that start off pink and turn blue after they are pollinated. So you have two different color flowers on one plant.
- Growing conditions: Lungwort is a shade garden plant that prefers a rich soil. Give it plenty of compost when planted and side dress it every year to keep the soil rich and water retentive. Leaf mulch is a great choice to use with shade garden plants. It mimics the soil in a forest and it is free.
- Sun exposure: This plant needs partial shade to full shade. Lungwort gives up quickly in the hot sun.
- Hardiness: USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8
- Mature size: 10 to 14 inches tall and 10 to 18 inches wide
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Creeping phlox has probably caught your eye. It is that carpet of flowers that seem to spill across spots on lawns or over rock walls. It is usually planted in large masses, making a big splash that literally turns heads. Creeping phlox comes in pastel shades of pink and lavender and well as a bolder hot pinks and clear white. The flowers do not last terribly long, but they put on quite a show when they arrive.
- Growing conditions: Creeping phlox can handle poor growing conditions, provided it gets plenty of water. Richer soil will produce lusher plants. Whatever your soil quality, creeping phlox will need extra water during the summer, or it will easily get scorched.
- Sun exposure: This plant needs full sun to partial shade. Creeping phlox flowers better in full sun, but the leaves stay fresher with a little afternoon shade.
- Hardiness: This plant grows in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. It will probably need some protection in zones 3 to 4.
- Mature size: 6 inches tall and 12 to 24 inches wide
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Pig Squeak (Bergenia cordifolia)
Pig squeak is not flashy, but it sure is not a wallflower, either. Its flowers may be tiny, but there are plenty of them and they are held high above the glossy, leathery leaves by burgundy stems. While Bergenia is an early spring bloomer, the leaves can stay good looking all season. In the fall, they turn a really nice bronze-red.
The species flowers are pink, but cultivars of Bergenia have been bred with white, red, and violet blooms. The plants spread by rhizomes, but not quickly enough to become a nuisance.
It is called pig squeak because that is the sound it makes when you rub its leaves between your fingers. Try it. It is practically guaranteed to make you laugh.
- Growing conditions: Pig squeak plants need rich, moist soil or they will languish. Do not skimp on the compost and do not plant them in a sunny dry spot.
- Sun exposure: This plant thrives in full sun to partial shade. If you plant it in full sun, make sure your soil can hold moisture.
- Hardiness: USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8
- Mature size: 1 to 2 feet tall and 1 to 1.5 feet wide
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It is hard to categorize primroses. There is the common primrose (Primula vulgaris), cowslips (Primula veris) in buttery yellow, the exotic candelabras (Primula japonica) that hold their flower clusters on tall, straight stems, and the saturated colors of English primrose (Primula acaulis). They all vary a bit in shape and size, but they all look best in large clumps, particularly spreading out under trees.
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- Growing conditions: Most primroses like rich, moist soil and cool weather. In fact, some, like the candelabra primroses, can handle waterlogged soil.
- Sun exposure: This plant prefers full sun to partial shade. If you do not have hot, hazy summers, you can plant them in full sun and expect maximum flowering. If you are in a place where summer heats up, you are better off planting them in partial shade.
- Hardiness: This plant grows well in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. Primroses need a winter chill to bloom their best.
- Mature size: 6 to 12 inches tall and 8 to 12 inches wide
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Solomon’s seal is eye-catching in a shade garden with its arching stems and dangling flowers. Even post-flower, the glossy black seed pods add eye appeal. Because it is a short plant that flowers downward, Solomon's seal looks best in large swathes that can spread out naturally in your garden bed.
Solomon’s seal spreads by rhizomes but not fast enough. Your friends will all want you to share this plant with them.
- Growing conditions: Solomon’s seal likes the same growing conditions of so many early spring plants—rich, moist soil. They do not need a lot of sunshine to thrive.
- Sun exposure: This plant does best in partial shade. You are really growing Solomon’s seal for its leaves and the shape of the plant. Growing it in the sun will more than likely scorch the leaves.
- Hardiness: USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9
- Mature size: 1 to 4 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide. Most are low growing plants, but there are “giant” Solomon’s seals (Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum) that can actually get as tall as 5 feet.
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Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)
Twinleaf is a demur North American native that often gets confused with bloodroot because their flowers are very similar. Twinleaf was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson and yes, he did grow it. What is wonderful about twinleaf flowers is that they can bloom even before the leaves fan out.
It is called twinleaf because there are two opposite leaves like butterfly wings. The flowers are fleeting, but the interesting leaves stick around all summer. They also have unique seed pods.
- Growing conditions: Twinleaf grows best in moist, well-draining soil, but once established, it will tolerate dry conditions.
- Sun exposure: It grows best in partial shade to shade. This is not a plant that will do well in full sun.
- Hardiness: USDA hardiness zones 6 to 8
- Mature size: 8 to 10 inches tall and 10 to 12 inches wide
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Poetry has been written about bluebells and many folks do not think spring has arrived until they see them in bloom. Much like lungwort, the flowers do not actually start out blue. They begin as pink buds and turn blue later. But there’s no denying their charm with dangling clusters of tubular blue flowers.
Bluebells are yet another spring ephemeral, these disappear shortly after they flower. They have done their job for the season and need the downtime to recover their strength. As they disappear, they make room for other plants to shine.
- Growing conditions: Bluebells need rich, moist soil in the spring. They can handle a slightly drier soil in the summer when dormant.
- Sun exposure: These plants need partial shade to shade. Do not try to grow these in full sun unless your climate is cool and wet.
- Hardiness: USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8
- Mature size: 2 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide