Early Spring Flowers to Wake Up Your Garden

  • 01 of 12

    The Best Early Spring Garden Flowers

    Phlox subulata (creeping snowlake phlox)
    Mrs. Gemstone/ Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0

    Spring weather is unpredictable, yet some flowers are hardy enough to handle it. Your garden can be brimming with color almost as soon as the ground thaws.

    The 11 perennial flowers showcased here will all 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 don't miss out by waiting too long to plant them.

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  • 02 of 12

    Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)

    Tips for Growing Bleeding Heart (Dicentra).
    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    I’m not sure there’s a more aptly named flower than the bleeding heart. 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 Heart is a welcome sight in the spring, you’d 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...MORE summer, as several spring ephemerals do.

    Don’t let that stop you from growing it. As long as you have plenty of plants nearby that leaf out in late spring, they will quickly fill in the void. Hosta, Astilbe, and ferns are great choices as companions for your bleeding hearts.

    • Growing Conditions: Bleeding Heart likes a moist, rich soil, that is also well draining. Its roots can rot in heavily wet soil.
    • Exposure: Partial shade is ideal, but it can handle a bit more sun if the temperature is cool and there’s even moisture.
    • Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 2 - 9
    • Mature Size: 24-36 in. (h) x 18-30 in. (w)

    More on Growing and Caring for Bleeding Heart

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  • 03 of 12

    Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis)

    Boodroot Flowers
    Photo: AcrylicArtist / morgueFile

    Bloodroot is more of a groundcover than a bedding plant, but it’s small, white flowers can really brighten a shady or woodland garden. After the flowers, the blue-green leaves provide a nice foil for summer flowers and even make a nice carpet on their own. Don’t worry, it’s 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...MORE doubles are more expensive, but they are gorgeous.

    The plant is called bloodroot because of its deep, red sa which is often used as a dy - intentionally or not.

    Growing Conditions: It’s normal habitat is woodland, but you can make it at home by adding lots of organic matter to your soil My top choice for bloodroot is leaf mold. This will give it the moisture it needs, but the soil will still be well-draining.

    Exposure: Partial shade. Bloodroot can handle full sun in the spring, but it will need some shady cover during summer.

    Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9

    Mature Size: 4 - 8 in. (h) x 1 - 12 ft. (w)

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  • 04 of 12

    False Forget-Me-Not / Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)

    Brunnera 'Jack Frost'
    Photo: © Marie iannotti


    Lately the heart-shaped leaves of Brunnera have been getting more attention than it’s 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 it emerges so early in the spring, the leaves can get a bit tattered toward summer. Simply cut them back and new leaves will fill in. Brunnera is a slow growing plant, but it will eventually form a nice size clump. The variegated...MORE varieties are slower to spread.

    Brunnera tend to be short lived. To keep it around longer, divide the plants every 3 years or so. This will reinvigorate them.

    • Growing Conditions: Either plant Brunner 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 won’t hide the Brunnera flowers, it will just protect the leaves.
    • Exposure: As with so many spring bloomers, Brunnera can handle full sun in the spring, but it will do best in partial shade.
    • Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9
    • Mature Size: 12 - 20 in. (h) x 12 - 24 ft. (w).

    More on Growing and Caring for False Forget-Me-Not

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  • 05 of 12

    Hellebore (Helleborus)

    Growing Hellebores
    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    There’s a Christmas Rose and a Lenten Rose. Neither usually blooms for me on the holiday, except when El Niño is in full force. However they do 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 pricy to purchase. If you’re not particular about the color, you can find seed packets of mixed blends. You’ll have to wait a few years for seed grown hellebores to bloom, but once they are established...MORE 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 like ginger.

    • Growing Conditions: Give your hellebores a shady spot and they should be happy. The only growing conditions they really can’t tolerate are excessively dry and excessively wet soils.
    • 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 - 9
    • Mature Size: 1 ½ - 2 ft. and spread 1 - 1 ½ ft. (w)

     More on Growing and Caring for Hellebores

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  • 06 of 12

    Lungwort (Pulmonaria)

    Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
    Photo: © Marie Iannotti


    Okay, it’s not the prettiest name, but it’s 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, but they’re center stage when you really need them.

    The flowers hold their own intrigue. The white flowers remain clear white, while in bloom. But there are also...MORE flowers that start off pink and turn blue, after they are pollinated. So you have 2 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’s free.
    • Exposure: Partial shade to shade. Lungwort gives up quickly in hot sun.
    • Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 8
    • Mature Size: 10 - 14 in. (h) x 10 - 18 in. (w)

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  • 07 of 12

    Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

    Creeping Phlox
    Photo: gracey / morgueFile

    Creeping Phlox has probably caught your eye. It’s that carpet of flowers that seems to spill across spots on lawns or over rock walls. It’s 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 big and clear white. The flowers don’t last terribly long, but they put on quite a show when they’re here.

    • Growing Conditions: Creeping phlox can handle poor growing conditions, providing it gets...MORE plenty of water. A richer soil will produce lusher plants. Whatever you soil quality, creeping phlox will need extra water during the summer, or it will easily get scorched.
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade. Creeping phlox flowers better in full sun, but the leaves stay fresher with a little afternoon shade.
    • Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9. It will probably need some protection in Zones 3 - 4.
    • Mature Size: 6 in. (h) x 12 - 24 in. (w)
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  • 08 of 12

    Pig Squeak - Bergenia cordifolia

    Bergenia cordifolia
    Photo: Erland / morgueFile

    Its flowers may tiny, but there are plenty of them and they’re held up above the glossy, leathery leaves by burgundy stems. Pig Squeak isn’t flashy, but it sure isn’t a wallflower, either. While it 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 have been bred with white, red, and violet blooms. The plants spread by rhizomes, but not quickly enough to become a nuisance.

    It’s called...MORE pig squeak because that’s the sound it makes when you rub its leaves between your fingers. Try it. It’s guaranteed to make you laugh.

    Growing Conditions: Pig Squeak need a rich, moist soil or it will languish. Don’t skimp on the compost and don’t plant it in a sunny dry spot.

    Exposure: Full sun to partial shade. If you plant it in full sun, make sure your soil can hold moisture.

    Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 8

    Mature Size: 1 - 2 ft. (h) x 1 - 1 ½ ft. (w)
     

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  • 09 of 12

    Primrose (Primula)

    Primrose
    Photo: LyndaOntario

    It’s hard to categorize primroses. There’s the common primrose (Primula vulgaris), cowslips (Primula veris) in buttery yellow, the exotic candelabras (Primula japonica) and the saturated colors of English primrose (primula acaulis).  They all look best in large clumps, particularly spreading out under trees.

    In my zone 5/6  garden, the leaves remain evergreen throughout the winter. At least they are when they are not covered in snow. The plants will spread slowly, but it helps to start out with...MORE several plants, for impact.

    • Growing Conditions: Most primroses like a rich, moist soil and cool weather. In fact, some, like the candelabra primroses, can handle water logged soil.
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade. If you don’t have hot, hazy summers, you can plant them in full sun and expect maximum flowering. Where’s summer’s heat up, you’re better off planting them in partial shade.
    • Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9. Primroses need a winter chill to bloom their best.
    • Mature Size: 6 - 12 in. (h) s 8 - 12 in. (w)

    More on Growing and Caring for Primroses

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  • 10 of 12

    Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum)

    Solomon's Seal Flowers
    Photo: © Marie iannotti

    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. I have abused my plants in dry shade and they continue to deliver. I’m sure they would do even better with more moisture and I can’t say enough positive things about this plant.

    I prefer the variegated varieties simply because the extra flash of white adds gleam to a shady garden - and they do need shade. Solomon’s seal spreads by rhizomes,...MORE 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 don’t need a lot of sun to thrive and, as I’ve already mentioned, even the moisture is fudgeable.

    Exposure: Partial shade. You’re really growing Solomon’s seal for its leaves and the shape of the plant. Growing it in sun will more than likely scorch the leaves.

    Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9

    Mature Size: 1 - 4 ft. (h) x 1 - 3 ft. (w). Most are low growing plants, but there are “Giant” Solomon’s seals (Pologonatum biflorum var. commutatum) that can actually get as tall as 5 ft.

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  • 11 of 12

    Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

    Twinleaf Flowers (Jeffersonia diphylla)
    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    This 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’s wonderful about twinleaf flowers is that they can bloom even before the leaves fan out.

    It’s called twinleaf because there are 2 opposite leaves, like butterfly wings. The flowers are fleeting, but the interesting leaves stick around all summer. They also have rather unique seed pods.

    Growing...MORE Conditions: Twinleaf grows best in moist, well-draining soil, but once established, it will tolerate dry conditions.

    Exposure: Partial shade to shade. This is not a plant that will do well in full sun.

    Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 - 8

    Mature Size: 8 - 10 in. (h) x 10 - 12 in. (w)

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  • 12 of 12

    Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

    Virginia Bluebells
    Photo: pcs382001 / morgueFile

    Poetry has been written about bluebells and many folks don’t think spring has arrived until they see them in bloom. Much like lungwort, the flowers don’t 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, disappearing shortly after they flower. Don’t fret, they’ve done their job for the season and need the down time to recover their strength. Besides,...MORE as they disappear, they make room for other plants to shine.

    Growing Conditions: Bluebells need a rich, moist soil in the spring. They can handle a little bit drier soil in the summer, when they’re dormant.

    Exposure: Partial shade to shade. Don’t try to grow these in full unless your climate is cool and wet.

    Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 8

    Mature Size: 2 ft. (h) x 1 - 2 ft. (w)