16 Best Flowers That Bloom Earliest in Spring

crocus flowers

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Spring flowers come along and cheer us up at a time when we most need it, after a long, cold winter. These flowering shrubs, vines, and bulbs bloom sooner than lilacs (Syringa spp.) and peonies (Paeonia spp.), giving us the first signs of spring. Here are 16 of the most popular early bloomers that are especially prized for their ability to give us a jump on the growing season.

  • 01 of 16

    Pussy Willows (Salix discolor)

    Pussy willow catkins.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    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 catkins as spring flowers, but this cheerful classic buds belong on any list of early-season favorites. These wetland plants should be planted in poorly draining soil, then watch out because they grow fast.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2-7
    • Color Varieties: White with yellow stamens
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, rich, poorly draining
  • 02 of 16

    Daffodils (Narcissus)

    Daffodils with long trumpets.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Being taller bulb plants, daffodils often bloom a bit later than shorter plants, although available miniature varieties may bloom earlier. Many gardeners who favor yellow flowers love daffodils for their delightful, signature, and sunny trumpet shapes. The flowers are hardy, but if they go "blind," or if your daffodils are not blooming, it could be that they need more sun or the bulb is nestled too far down into the soil and needs to be brought up slightly higher.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, white, orange, red, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist but well-drained

    Warning

    Daffodils are toxic to animals.

  • 03 of 16

    Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera)

    Pink-purple creeping phlox closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Creeping phlox is a low-maintenance ground cover that bears small blossoms in dense clusters. Massed together on an inclined bank, creeping phlox plants make a powerful landscaping statement. It will need weekly watering because it's not the most drought-tolerant plant. Be sure to start pulling weeds as early as possible in the spring so the phlox can have as many nutrients as possible to keep its carpet-like bloom.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5-8
    • Color Varieties: Red, white, blue, pink, rose, lavender, purple, and variegated 
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, well-drained
  • 04 of 16

    Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

    Snowdrop galanthus nivalis plants with small white-winged flowers

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Snowdrops are short plants (often only 3 inches tall), like the spreading ground covers. They have double white, droopy, bell-shaped blooms, but the inner tepals are shorter than the outer three tepals. But, like other springtime bulb plants (and unlike the ground covers), their foliage dies back by summer. The "snow" in the name is apt: Among the earliest bloomers in February or March, snowdrops are sometimes spotted pushing up through a layer of snow. For best results, plant groups of 25 bulbs in the fall, each bulb submerged 2 to 3 inches into the ground.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3-7
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained soil rich in humus

    Warning

    Snowdrops are toxic to animals and humans.

    Continue to 5 of 16 below.
  • 05 of 16

    Crocus

    Crocus blooms in blanket of snow.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    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 traditional color, white, it will be welcome news that crocus comes in a number of colors. Size depends on the variety. There's virtually no care needed for crocus. They don't need much water other than rain and they multiply on their own. The biggest problem with crocus? Wildlife, such as chipmunks and deer, love to devour the buds.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3-8
    • Color Varieties: Purple, blue, yellow, orange, pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part sun
    • Soil Needs: Any well-draining soil

    Warning

  • 06 of 16

    Adonis (Adonis amurensis)

    Adonis amurensis in bloom.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    This herbaceous maintenance-free perennial will compete with bulb plants such as snowdrops and crocus for "earliest flower" status in your yard. The flower is yellow and the leaves are 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 has superior blooms of 1 to 2 inches across when planted in full sun, grows in clumps, and becomes 1 foot tall (with a greater spread).

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3-7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, but well-drained soil
  • 07 of 16

    Forsythia

    forsythia branch in bloom

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    This fast-growing bush with yellow flowers is one of the most popular flowering shrubs. When those cheerful yellow spring flowers grace the arching branches of forsythia, it's proof that winter has retreated for the year. Forsythia is fairly independent when it comes to care. The biggest issue when growing forsythia is keeping shrubs pruned to maintain neatness, shape, and size, but many also like the look of its wild growth pattern.

    • USDA Growing Zones:  5-8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist but well-draining
  • 08 of 16

    Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)

    Pink flowering quince on bare branches

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Flowering quinces are dense and thorny shrubs that are often wildly shaped. Shrubs with red or orange blooms pair well with forsythia. The low-maintenance shrub makes a great barrier or privacy hedge even though the blooms only last for a couple of weeks. Pruning after blooming will keep this shrub in shape.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9
    • Color Varieties: Red, orange, white, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Loamy
    Continue to 9 of 16 below.
  • 09 of 16

    Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia)

    'Arnold Promise' witch hazel flower closeup

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Witch hazel flowers before just about any other bushes, blooming at the very tail end of winter or at the very beginning of spring. The shrub has bright yellow blooms that look spidery in shape. Plant this extremely low-maintenance shrub in the fall and look for flowers even when there's a blanket of snow on the ground. As with other early spring blooming shrubs, the most work you'll possibly need to do is to keep its shape by removing suckering shoots that sprout below the graft point which usually causes awkward spreading.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5-8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium-moisture well-drained soil
  • 10 of 16

    Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

    Star magnolia tree branch with white flowers

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 (Magnolia x soulangiana; 20 to 25 feet in height) and these distinctive star-shaped flowers bloom the earliest. Star magnolia has white flowers, unlike the saucer kind and Jane magnolia (Magnolia 'Jane'), both of which bloom in pink. As with other spring early bird shrubs, look out for suckering shoots that you'll want to prune.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining soil
  • 11 of 16

    Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)

    Light green and yellow lenten rose flowers closeup

    The Spruce / Kara Riley

    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. The large pink and green multicolored petals dangle down and they are curved in shape almost like buttercups since they are in the same family. Another low-care plant, the only caveat is that you may want to encourage blooming with an application of fertilizer in the early spring.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9
    • Color Varieties: Purple, red, yellow, green, blue, lavender, or pink
    • Sun Exposure: Partial or full shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, loamy

    Warning


    Lenten rose is toxic to humans and animals.

  • 12 of 16

    Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)

    Purple pasque flowers with yellow centers

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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"). The perky purple flowers grow to only a foot high. This plant prefers cooler, drier climates, and higher elevations. Water one to three times weekly, deeply saturating the soil around the base, but make sure plants do not get wet feet.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
    • Color Varieties: Bluish-purple, lavender, reddish-purple, dark violet, and white
    • Sun Exposure:  Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Sandy or humusy well-draining soil
    Continue to 13 of 16 below.
  • 13 of 16

    Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

    Winter jasmine with yellow flower on vine closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    This viny plant just barely makes the list, because it is not a show-stopper, but it is a perennial vine that loves the sun. But winter jasmine deserves mention simply because it blossoms so early (March in zone 5, for example), bearing plentiful pale yellow flowers. This fuss-free plant is highly versatile; Let the plant grow naturally as a ground cover or provide a structure for the vine to climb on.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6-10
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Chalk, loamy, sandy, or clay, but well-draining
  • 14 of 16

    Creeping Myrtle (Vinca minor)

    Purple vinca minor ground cover in bloom

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    A ground-hugger like creeping phlox (but bigger), creeping myrtle (also known as vinca or periwinkle) is a vine plant, bearing larger leaves than phlox. Its blooms in the beginning of spring are simple and plentiful. This tough plant (sometimes invasive) is suitable for shade gardens and requires little care once established. The plant's trailing stems can reach 18 inches in length, spreading rapidly by creeping along the ground and becoming a pretty flowering ground cover that fills in large swaths of ground, especially where grass would fail to grow.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
    • Color Varieties: Blue, lavender, purple, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, sandy, clay

    Warning

    Creeping myrtle is toxic to pets. It is also considered to be an invasive plant throughout the eastern portion of the United States.

  • 15 of 16

    Glory-of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa)

    Chionodoxa

    Petra Urbath / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Another choice of bulbs that bloom early when there's still a blanket of snow on the ground is the dainty star-shaped glory-of-the-snow flower. At 4 to 5 inches tall, it is commonly (but not always) a bit taller than snowdrops. The flower is effortless to grow, assertively spreading and naturalizing without any intervention. Plant bulbs in the fall. To keep the flower blooming year to year, water once in a while but only if you have a dry springtime.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, violet, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained
  • 16 of 16

    Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica)

    Siberian squill with blue flowers and long leaves in ground

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Like snowdrops and glory-of-the-snow, Siberian squill is another short bulb plant (4 to 8 inches tall, most commonly closer to 4 in the North) that will naturalize and eventually carpet an area of the yard with blue in April. Blooms in March and April are star or bell-shaped that sweetly droop on their short stems. Plant these fuss-free, cold-hardy bulbs in the fall just about anywhere in any type of light. Though it's unnecessary, it won't hurt to feed the flowers with fertilizer formulated for bulbs just to give it a quick boost during blooming season.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2-8
    • Color Varieties: Blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-drained 

    Warning


    Siberian squill is toxic to humans and animals.

Updated by
Marilyn Syarto
Marilyn Zelinsky Syarto head shot
Marilyn Syarto is a seasoned interior design expert, writer, and editor with over 30 years of furniture and textile design, kitchen and bath design, DIY, and home improvement experience. She was a contributing editor for "Pottery Barn Home," edited 13 books on design and architecture, and has written four books on residential and corporate interior design.
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