Wintertime blues and dreary days are finally coming to a close. The earth is waking back up after a long winter’s nap and landscapes are beckoning the green thumbs back outside. Get the most out of your garden beds and the season with these early spring bloomers. While daffodils, tulips, forsythias, and quince are all classic favorites, here are five perennials recommended by your local garden center.
Helleborus x hybrids
A clump-forming and erect, shade-loving perennial. Cup shaped flowers appear in late winter to early spring and are often found nodding or drooping. Flower color is highly variable and may be found in colors of white, pink, red, purple, green, and black and frequently have ornamental interior spotting. Foliage is broadleaf evergreen, shiny, and leathery with toothed margins.
Hellebores prefer part shade to full shade and are drought tolerant once established. They also perform well in moist, well-drained soil, making them a very versatile plant for your landscape. This long-lasting perennial looks best in containers, shrub bed borders, patios, near walkways, or grouped under trees.
Bloom time: February-May
Hardiness zones: 4-9
Height: 1’ – 1.5’
Spread: 1’ – 1.5’
- ‘Ivory Prince’: Unlike most hellebores, these flowers face out and rise on sturdy, reddish stems. Burgundy-pink buds open to reveal white flowers that mature into dusty pink and subtle chartreuse. This cultivar remains upright and compact.
- ‘Rio Carnival’: Yellow flower margins with heavy burgundy red speckling bloom vigorously from March to April. This cultivar pops with a woodland background.
- ‘Spanish Flare’: Pale yellow petals accented with maroon centers bring a welcoming and stark contrast to the surrounding winter landscape.
- ‘Black Diamond’: Striking black-purple flowers with deep green foliage makes this hellebore a unique showstopper. Get the earliest sense of spring as it blooms from January to April.
A spreading, ground cover perennial with profuse, bright and colorful flowers perfect for spring. Fragrant five-petaled flowers appear in colors of blue-violet, pink, purple, red, and white. Because of its low growing and dense habit, deer resistance, salt and drought tolerance, and low maintenance characteristics it is a highly desired perennial.
Moss phlox performs best in full sun but can handle dappled shade in hot summer climates. It aids in erosion control and fills border fronts nicely for a stunning display. Spilling over rock walls or spreading across slopes really showcases this perennial’s free form. Good drainage is important when considering phlox as it does not like wet feet.
Bloom time: March-May
Hardiness zones: 3-9
Height: 0.25’ – 0.5’
Spread: 1’ – 2’
- ‘Emerald Blue’: Blue-lavender flowers
- ‘Red Wing’: Crimson pink flowers
- ‘Purple Beauty’: Lavender purple flowers with deep violet centers
- ‘Fort Hill’: Rose-pink flowers with magenta centers
An upright and tall perennial with delicate bell-shaped flowers and lacy, showy leaves. Blooms come in many colors ranging from blue, orange, red, yellow, purple, pink, and white. These flowers are unique due to spurs that point upward and faces that droop down. Columbine has been in cultivation for many years and a wide variety of popular hybrids make this perennial a great fit for most landscapes.
Columbines are easily grown and widely adaptable. They perform best in full sun to part shade in average, medium-moisture, and well-drained soil. They do become drought tolerant once established. Plant this perennial in beds, borders, rock gardens, shade gardens, or leave them to naturalize and watch the pollinators come. Columbine also self-seeds readily.
Bloom time: March-May
Hardiness zones: 3-9
Height: 1’ – 3’
Spread: 0.5’ – 2’
- ‘Nora Barlow’: Fully-doubled and spurless pink flowers with white tips; perfect for cut flowers and arrangements.
- ‘Clementine Dark Purple’: Double, upright-facing flowers that represent clematis blooms. Perfect for containers and a favorite to pollinators
- ‘BlueBird’: Long-spurred blue and white flowers up to 3 inches long with lovely fern-like and lacy foliage. Generally short-lived but will reseed prolifically.
- ‘Little Lanterns’: Dainty red and yellow drooping flowers with five distinctive spurs. Reaches about 12” in height and remains attractive through summer as long as soil remains moist.
Abundant and fragrant blooms of large peony flowers are prized and loved by many. A classic for borders and shrub beds make this perennial a favorite as colors range from white, pink to red to coral, purple, and yellow. Peonies make for excellent cut flowers and add a boldness to any landscape. Flowers are cup or bowl shaped. There are six different kinds of flower blooms depending on the species or hybrid: anemone, single, Japanese, semi-double, double, and bomb.
Peonies are carefree once established and live for years on end. They prefer full sun to part shade, especially during peak season at the hottest part of the day. The biggest downside to this perennial is the short-lived bloom season (7-10 days). There are early, midseason, and late cultivars. If you want to get the most out of your peonies, select a variety of cultivars that bloom at various times of the season. Peonies do best in moist but well-drained soil.
Bloom time: April-early June
Hardiness zones: 3-8
Height: 2’ – 3’
Spread: 2’ – 3’
- ‘Rosea Plena’ (Paeonia officinalis, Early season): Large, ruffled, double bright rose-pink flowers that fade to pale pink as they mature. Upright, sturdy, and vigorous — this is a top choice for an early blooming peony.
- ‘Show Girl’ (Paeonia hybrid, Midseason): Blush pink petals and yellow stamens bloom boldly on this Japanese type peony, as the color combination is eye catching even from a distance.
- ‘Shirley Temple’ (Paeonia lactiflora, Midseason): Fragrant, double, blush pink buds loosely unfurrow into an ivory white bloom that will take your breath away.
- ‘White Ivory’ (Paeonia lactiflora, Late season): Full double, large ivory white flowers reveal broad petals. This is a vigorous and abundant cultivar with deep green foliage that remains healthy the whole growing season.
Lovely arching stems with nodding, heart-shaped flowers make for an elegant perennial. Bleeding heart is a long-time garden favorite due to its unique flowers that dangle downward on long stems. Flowers are commonly pink with protruding white petals that bloom before foliage emerges, but pure white and red with white are also popular. Foliage is soft green with divided leaves, making them showy and attractive.
Bleeding hearts thrive in part shade — morning sun with afternoon shade is best. They are full shade tolerant, however fewer blooms will emerge. This perennial grows easily in fertile, moist, organically rich, and well-drained soil. Foliage usually goes dormant by midsummer after a stunning spring display. Bleeding hearts are best showcased in shaded borders and woodland settings. They also pair well with roses, interplanted with shrubs, and alongside spring bulbs.
Bloom time: April-May
Hardiness zones: 3-9
Height: 2’ – 3’
Spread: 1.5’ – 2.5’
- ‘Alba’: Elegant, pristine white flowers with fern-like leaves. Best showcased in late spring and will brighten any shady border.
- ‘Gold Heart’: Planted for this cultivar’s beautiful gold leaves and peach-colored stems. These bright colors will pop in the shade. Flowers are classic rose pink with white drooping petals.
- ‘Luxuriant’: Nodding, reddish pink flowers are borne above deeply cut, fern-like foliage. This cultivar is more sun and heat tolerant than most bleeding hearts.
- ‘Valentine’: Just like the classic bleeding heart but with red petals! Red and white flowers adorn long arching stems. Foliage emerges after blooms with a purple tinge before maturing to deep green.
By Riley Rehberg