The Earliest Flowers to Bloom in Spring

These Plants Blossom First, to the Delight of the Winter-Weary

Closeup of blue flower of Scilla siberica.
Scilla siberica is an early-bloomer in blue. schnuddel/E+/Getty Images

Spring flowers come along and cheer us up at a time when we most need it, after we have somehow survived another long winter. It would not be going too far to say that they help you convalesce as you recuperate from Old Man Winter's months-long blustery barrage. But if you are a landscaping novice, you should consider a couple of points prior to making your plant selection to help you decide how best to incorporate these angels of mercy into your yard:

  1. Which kinds bloom the earliest?
  2. How can you inject the best variety into your springtime plantings?

The present article answers the first question by discussing various kinds of spring flowers that are known to be among the earliest blooming plants. Not that you should not also grow some of the plants that bloom later in the springtime, such as lilacs and peonies. But the following early bloomers are especially prized for their ability to give us a "jump" on the growing season:

  1. Creeping phlox
  2. Creeping myrtle
  3. Winter jasmine
  4. Snowdrops
  5. Siberian squill
  6. Daffodils
  7. Crocus
  8. Adonis
  9. Pasque flower
  10. Lenten rose
  11. Witch hazel
  12. Forsythia
  13. Pussy willows
  14. Magnolia

Regarding the second point above (injecting variety), do not think the only way to inject variety into your springtime plantings is to use different colors. A less obvious but perhaps more important stratagem is to grow plants of different heights, thereby forcing the viewer continually to change eye-level.

Hence, the list below of best picks is organized according to plant height by placing them in the following categories:

  1. Short, spreading ground covers
  2. Spring bulb plants
  3. Perennials
  4. Shrubs
  5. Trees

You may find the inclusion of pussy willows here intriguing. Technically, they are not grown for their blooming displays, so you may not think of them as "spring flowers." But this cheerful classic belongs on any list of vernal favorites.

Ground Covers

  • Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata): Creeping phlox bears small blossoms in dense clusters. Massed together on a banking, creeping phlox plants make a powerful landscaping statement. The colors available are red, white, blue, pink, rose, lavender, purple, and variegated.
  • Creeping myrtle (Vinca minor): A ground-hugger like creeping phlox (but bigger), creeping myrtle (or, simply, "vinca") is a vine plant, bearing larger leaves than phlox and bluish or white blooms. A tough plant suitable for shade gardens and requiring little care once established, it is often encountered still-thriving on abandoned homesteads.
  • Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum): This viny plant just barely makes the list, because it is not a show-stopper. But winter jasmine deserves mention here simply because it blossoms so early (March in zone 5). It bears pale yellow flowers.

Bulb Plants

  • Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis): Snowdrops are short plants, like the spreading ground covers above. But like other springtime bulb plants (and unlike the ground covers), their foliage dies back by summer. The "snow" in their name is apt: Among the earliest bloomers, snowdrops are sometimes spotted pushing up through a layer of snow (plus they have white flowers).
  • Crocus: Technically a "corm" (not a bulb), crocus can bloom almost as early as snowdrops (depending on the variety). For those gardeners not crazy about the color, white, it will be welcome news that crocus comes in a number of colors.
  • Siberian squill (Scilla siberica): Like snowdrops, Siberian squill is a short bulb plant that will naturalize and eventually carpet an area of lawn with color in April. But, unlike snowdrops, this plant's spring flowers come in blue, which is always a sought-after color in the gardening world.
  • Daffodils (Narcissus): Being taller bulb plants, daffodils often bloom a bit later than the preceding three examples, although miniature varieties are available that may bloom earlier. The favorite daffodils of many gardeners are those with yellow flowers and those delightful, signature trumpets.

    Perennials

    • Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris): Just as Lenten rose (below) may bloom in early spring, around the time of the Christian season of Lent, "Pasque flower" is so named because it blooms around Eastertime in some locales (Pasque being the Old French for "Easter"). And its lavender flowers are very much in keeping with the decorations for the Easter holiday season.
    • Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis): Like the taller kinds of daffodils (and tulips, etc.), Lenten rose's height (18 to 24 inches tall) makes it more noticeable from a distance than the shorter examples of spring flowers listed above. Despite its name, this plant is not a rose at all, but a hellebore.
    • Adonis: This plant will compete with snowdrops and crocus for "earliest flower" status in your yard. The flower color is yellow.

    Shrubs and Trees

    • Pussy willow (Salix discolor): There are people who get a timely spring fever in March or April, and then there are those of us who "think spring" much earlier than that, despite being surrounded by snow and ice. If pussy willow shrubs were people, they would fall into the latter camp, as they often display their fuzzy catkins while winter is still firmly entrenched. Often thought of as wild shrubs, you can also grow pussy willows in the landscape.
    • Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia): Witch hazel flowers before just about any other bushes (not counting winter heath, which blossoms in November and retains flowers right through winter and into May) and is a more honest harbinger of spring than is the precocious pussy willow. It may bloom at the very tail end of winter or at the very beginning of spring.
    • Forsythia: This bush with yellow flowers is one of the most popular flowering shrubs. When those cheerful yellow spring flowers grace the arching branches of forsythia, we know Old Man Winter has finally and fully retired for another year.
    • Magnolia trees: Magnolias are among the earliest flowering trees each year to produce their spring flowers. Star magnolia stays shorter (15 to 20 feet tall) than saucer magnolia (20 to 25 feet in height) and blooms the earliest. Star magnolia has white flowers, unlike the saucer kind and Jane magnolia, both of which bloom in pink.