Early spring bloomers

Jennifer Schutter, horticulture specialist

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In just a few more weeks signs of spring will be everywhere. Nothing signals the end of winter like green grass, warmer weather and the first spring flowers poking their heads through the melting snow. Few plants are as easy to grow, or as rewarding, as the early-blooming bulb flowers.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are the earliest flowers to appear, often weeks before crocuses, and often through the snow in early March. The flowers are white with green inner tips. The plants are 4-6 inches tall and should be planted in clumps three inches deep and three inches apart. Snowdrops readily increase in number which makes them ideal for naturalizing. They are usually not touched by deer and rodents.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) is also one of the earliest spring flowers to bloom, featuring deep blue, 1/2 inch, bell like flowers in loose clusters of 3 to 5 flowers. These upright six inch tall plants prefer fertile, well-drained soil in full to partial sun. Siberian Squill is one of the very best bulb plants for naturalizing. The foliage dies down quickly after bloom. They are exquisite when planted in large groups under spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, azaleas, rhododendrons, and magnolias.

Lenten Rose (Hellebores) can be seen blooming in the snow. Flowers can be a range of colors that include pale green, cream, and maroon-speckled shades of rose. The Lenten Rose prefers partial shade and well-drained soil. It is considered deer-resistant.

Crocus, another early blooming favorite, brightens up the landscape around the world with white, yellow, blue, and light orange flowers above thin grass-like leaves. These small plants grow just 4-6 inches tall. They are easy to grow and are very prolific. There are 100 known species of crocus, but only 30 have been cultivated. Crocuses are grown from corms, which can be a tasty meal for a hungry squirrel. Crocus should be planted in full sun to partial shade, and are grown in borders, rock gardens, lawns, under shrubs and trees, and for indoor forcing.

As we move into April and May other spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths provide a beautiful display of color in spring gardens. Along with early spring blooming flowers are a couple of early flowering shrubs.

Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) blooms in late March or early April producing bright yellow flowers appearing before the leaves. Flowers usually last 2-3 weeks unless killed by cold. Forsythia is easy to grow and can reach 8-10 feet in height and 10-12 feet wide.

Vernal Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), is a deciduous, winter-blooming shrub, with a rounded habit which typically grows 6-10' tall with a somewhat larger spread. It is noted for its’ extremely early, January to February-March, and lengthy (up to 4 weeks) bloom period. The fragrant, globular flower clusters have variable coloration, but flowers most frequently have yellow petals and reddish inner calyxes. Its’ dull green leaves (2-5") turn an attractive golden yellow in autumn. It is hardy in zones 5-8.

As the days get longer and winter begins to loosen it’s grip, these brave plants welcome the warm sunlight of late February and March. As your thoughts begin reveling in the moist-earth scents, warm sun, and gardening, why not take a look around your yard. Explore the possibilities for adding plants for winter interest to help satisfy the senses as you face next winter’s challenges.

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