9 Great Spring-Flowering Trees and Shrubs

Eastern redbud tree with long thin branches and small pink flowers in the shade

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The end of the long gray winter months is often announced not by spring bulbs but by flowering trees and shrubs such as dogwoods. The merit of these trees can extend well past spring, however, because the flowers on many varieties give way to berries that attract wild birds, and some offer colorful foliage in autumn. There are even multitaskers that boast more than just ornamental qualities by bearing edible fruit.

Criteria for a Great Spring Tree or Shrub

Several virtues will make a particular spring-blooming tree or shrub a good choice for your landscape: 

  • Showiness of bloom
  • Foliage interest, including multi-season color
  • Interesting branching patterns
  • Cold hardiness
  • Berry output and beauty
  • Ease of maintenance, including disease-resistance

Some very popular spring-flowering shrubs (azaleas and rhododendrons, for example) don't make the list because they are not particularly attractive after the spectacular spring bloom season is completed.

The trees and shrubs selected below are divided equally between early bloomers and late bloomers. Early bloomers are those that flower by early April, while late bloomers are those that bloom only after spring has fully sprung (late April or perhaps early May). A well-designed landscape features mixed planting of flowering trees and shrubs and includes both early bloomers and later bloomers.

All of the plants on the list should be grown in full sun, although flowering dogwood is an understory tree and performs well in part shade. While most of the plants on this list are regarded as low-maintenance, this should not be confused with no maintenance. It's always a good idea to winterize flowering shrubs, especially when they are young, to protect them against the harshness of winter. 

  • 01 of 09

    Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida, Cornus kousa)

    Flowering dogwood branches with pink flowers against clear blue sky

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    All things considered, dogwoods win the top ranking for spring bloomers, with an impressive number of landscaping benefits. The branching pattern of flowering dogwood trees is rather horizontal, which gives visual interest at any time of year. The two main standouts in this group are the flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida), an American native species, and the Japanese dogwood tree (Cornus kousa).

    Two popular varieties of Cornus florida are 'Cherokee Chief' and 'Rubra'. 'Cherokee Chief' attains a maximum height of about 30 feet with a spread of about 15 feet. Its springtime floral bracts are red and yield berries that birds like to eat. In autumn the leaves turn bronzy-red. 'Rubra' is commonly known as pink dogwood or pink flowering dogwood. It reaches 15 to 30 tall, with a similar spread, and flowers from April to May.

    Japanese dogwood trees are relatively disease-resistant and blossom slightly later in spring than the American dogwoods.

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–9

    Color Varieties: White to pink

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil

  • 02 of 09

    'Donald Wyman' Crabapple (Malus 'Donald Wyman')

    Crab Apple Tree (Malus pumila) in Blossom
    Mantonature / Getty Images

    Malus 'Donald Wyman' is a disease-resistant crabapple. These flowering trees grow to be 15 to 20 feet tall, with a spread of 20 to 25 feet. The pink buds open in April to become single white blooms. The flowers are fragrant, although they do not smell as good as another springtime favorite, lilac bushes. The tree has good fall color, and the ornamental fruits last through the winter; wild birds eat them into February and March.

    Avoid spring pruning with this tree, as the open wounds can be susceptible to fireblight infection. Instead, prune in late winter.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Color Varieties: Pink, transitioning to white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, acidic loam
  • 03 of 09

    Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)

    flowering Japanese quince flowers
    Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

    A particularly good form of quince is the 'Cameo' (Chaenomeles speciosa 'Cameo'), a compact, spreading, apricot-colored flowering bush that is well-suited for a low border or hedge (this is a thorny plant). It grows to a mature height of 4-5 feet, with a spread of 3 to 5 feet. Its double peach spring blooms, arriving in March and April, easily make this a favorite shrub. The edible reddish-yellow quince berries ripen in fall and are commonly used for preserves and jellies.

    Root suckers should be regularly pruned away to prevent flowering quince shrubs from spreading.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Color Varieties: Pale red to scarlet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 04 of 09

    Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana)

    Saucer magnolia

    Nahhan / Getty Images

    Although star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) blooms before saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana), saucer's large, cup-shaped flowers appearing in March make this a prized tree. Flowers are rose to purple outside, with a soft, white interior. This tree reaches 20 to 30 feet in height with a similar spread. Star magnolia is a bit smaller (15 to 20 tall, with a spread slightly less than that).

    Late spring frosts can damage the flowers, but the plant generally recovers. Watch out for scale, cankers, and fungal leaf spots.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–9
    • Color Varieties: White and purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, acidic, well-drained loam
    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    'Sunrise' Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia 'Sunrise')

    Forsythia, yellow spring flowers hedge and green grass
    AndreaAstes / Getty Images

    Forsythia x intermedia 'Sunrise' reaches a mature height of only about 4-6 feet, making it a more compact bush than some of the other popular forsythia shrubs. To many gardeners, spring just wouldn't be spring without the vibrant yellow flowers of forsythia arriving in March and April. The flowering stems make good branches for forcing into bloom in vases, and the shrub is a good plant for hedges and boundary plantings. 

    Do not prune this shrub until mid-July. 'Sunrise' is a very cold-resistant plant (down to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit) and some zone 4 gardeners may be able to grow it.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–8
    • Color Varieties: Bright yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Loose, medium-moisture, well-drained soil
  • 06 of 09

    Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

    Eastern redbud branch with small white and pink flowers closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    As redbuds come into bloom, their limbs appear to grow hairs that are really the beginnings of the flowers. Eastern redbud trees grow to be 20 to 30 feet high with a similar spread. Other trees and shrubs may match the color of redbud trees' blooms, but few are as graceful. The fall foliage is yellow, but it is not highly valued.

    Eastern redbud trees bear bright pinkish-purple flowers all along their bare branches in April (depending on zone), about the same time that crabapples bloom. They are among the few flowering trees that tolerate shade, although they will bloom better in full sun.

    This tree can be susceptible to a variety of disease and insect problems if it begins to decline, so make efforts to keep it healthy and treat problems promptly when they occur.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Color Varieties: Pinkish purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 07 of 09

    'Tor' Spirea (Spiraea betulifolia 'Tor')

    Shrub of spiraea betulifolia tor or birchleaf spirea with white flowers
    skymoon13 / Getty Images

    'Tor' spirea also makes the list of the best shrubs for fall color. This spirea is fairly compact, maturing at about 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide. It has dark green leaves in summer that turn a red color in autumn.

    In mid- to late-spring, 'Tor' spirea produces white flowers that are small but grouped in showy clusters. Goldflame and Gold Mound spireas are also late bloomers (they bear pink flowers, as does 'Neon Flash'). But they bear colorful, golden leaves earlier in the season.

    This shrub blooms on new wood, so pruning should occur in late winter or very early spring before new growth begins.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 08 of 09

    Variegated Weigela (Weigela florida 'Variegata')

    Variegated Weigela
    MichelR45 / Getty Images

    Weigela florida is an old-time favorite that rewards growers with a fine springtime flower show. But the 'Variegata' cultivar is an improvement in some ways. It can be appreciated long after the flowers have gone by. It is a compact, rounded shrub with a height of 3 to 5 feet and a similar spread and has green leaves bordered by creamy white. The plant's foliage alone makes it worth growing, but the pink blossoms are a bonus, and they also draw hummingbirds. It is a long bloomer, providing blossoms from late spring into August. 

    Weigela tends to look best with a natural, unpruned look, but if you must trim it, do it in spring immediately after blooming is complete.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Color Varieties: Rose pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)

    Pussy willows
    Karolína Hrdlicková / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Pussy willows (Salix discolor) are native American plants and another early-blooming favorite for forcing. Since pussy willow is a wetland plant in the wild, it is ideal for any areas of a landscape that suffer from poor drainage. In dry locations, artificial irrigation may be required during dry periods. 

    The flowers of the pussy willow are soft-textured catkins said to resemble the paw pads of cats. They appear from March to April, and stems can be cut for use in dried flower arrangements. Only male plants exhibit highly decorative catkins--female catkins are much smaller, greenish, and less attractive. Kept closely trimmed, pussy willows can be used as a hedge. 

    Cut the plants to the ground every three to five years to keep them in check.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Color Varieties: Grayish white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Damp but well-drained soil

Landscaping Tips

To make the best use of flowering trees and shrubs in the landscape, follow these tips:

  • Planting specimen flowering shrubs on either side of the home's entry helps direct the eye to it. Be sure to choose varieties with interesting foliage so that the entry will look good beyond the spring season.
  • You can hide a high house foundation with flowering shrubs that serve as foundation plantings. Again, consider foliage as well as flowers when choosing plants.
  • Flowering shrubs can be planted near a home to "soften" the landscape, breaking up vertical or horizontal lines that are too strong.
  • Some flowering shrubs are particularly effective in controlling erosion. For example, forsythia has a large root system that can help hold back soil on a hill.
  • Flowering dogwood trees and flowering shrubs with attractive foliage can be used as a border for landscaping property lines or to define distinct outdoor spaces. 
  • Taller plants, such as some of the larger varieties of magnolia, can provide shade for patio and deck areas.
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  2. "Managing Pests In Gardens: Trees And Shrubs: Magnolia—UC IPM". Ipm.Ucanr.Edu, 2021, http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/GARDEN/PLANTS/magnolia.html.

  3. "Eastern Redbud Tree | Piedmont Master Gardeners". Piedmontmastergardeners.Org, 2021, https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/eastern-redbud-tree/.