The Earliest Flowers to Bloom in Spring

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

Scilla siberica image
Scilla siberica sports blue, nodding blooms in early spring. David Beaulieu

Spring flowers come along and cheer us up at a time when we most need it, after a long, cold winter. 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 cheerful plants in your yard.

  • Which plants bloom the earliest?
  • How can you inject the best variety into your springtime plantings?
  • 01 of 06

    Earliest Bloomers

    Pussy willow catkins.
    David Beaulieu

    Take a look at the various kinds of spring flowers that are known to be among the earliest blooming plants. These plants bloom sooner than lilacs and peonies. These early bloomers are especially prized for their ability to give us a "jump" on the growing season:

  • 02 of 06

    Spring Plant Variety

    Daffodils with long trumpets.
    David Beaulieu

    To inject variety into your springtime plantings, you can grow plants that have different colors, and a less obvious but perhaps more important strategy is to grow plants of different heights. This forces the viewer to continually change eye level.

  • 03 of 06

    Ground Covers

    Hillside covered with creeping phlox in different colors.

    DAJ/Getty Images

    • Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata): Creeping phlox bears small blossoms in dense clusters. Massed together on an inclined bank, 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 (sometimes invasive) 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.
  • 04 of 06

    Bulb Plants

    Crocus blooms in blanket of snow.
    David Beaulieu
    • Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis): Snowdrops are short plants, like the spreading ground covers. 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 the yard 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.
    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Perennials

    Adonis amurensis in bloom.
    Adonis amurensis is one of the first perennials to bloom in spring. David Beaulieu
    • Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis): Like the taller kinds of daffodils (and tulips), Lenten rose's height (18 to 24 inches tall) makes it more noticeable from a distance than the shorter spring flowers such as snowdrops. Despite its name, this plant is not a rose at all, but a hellebore.
    • Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris): Just as Lenten rose 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 word for "Easter"). And its lavender flowers are very much in keeping with the decorations for the Easter holiday season.
    • Adonis (Adonis amurensis): This herbaceous perennial for zones 3 to 7 will compete with bulb plants such as snowdrops and crocus for "earliest flower" status in your yard. The flower is yellow and the leaves fern-like, but the plant does go dormant in summer, so have some annuals ready to insert around it to cover the hole it leaves in your garden design. Adonis grows in clumps and becomes 1 foot tall (with a greater spread). The flowers are 1 to 2 inches across. Grow Adonis in full sun to partial shade (performance is usually superior in full sun) and in a rich, moist, but well-drained soil.
  • 06 of 06

    Shrubs and Trees

    forsythia branch in bloom
    David Beaulieu
    • Pussy willow (Salix discolor): Pussy willow shrubs 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. You may not think of the catkins of pussy willow as spring "flowers," but this cheerful classic belongs on any list of early-season favorites.
    • Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia): Witch hazel flowers before just about any other bushes (not counting Erica x darleyensis, or "winter heath," which blossoms in November and retains flowers right through winter and into May) and is a more honest harbinger of spring than 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 retired for another year.
    • Magnolia trees: Magnolias are among the earliest flowering trees each year to produce their spring flowers. Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) stays shorter (15 to 20 feet tall) than saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana; 20 to 25 feet in height) and blooms the earliest. Star magnolia has white flowers, unlike the saucer kind and Jane magnolia (Magnolia 'Jane'), both of which bloom in pink.