Ask Elaine: Plants that Bloom Early in the Spring

Dear Elaine,

Are there any plants that bloom very early in the season? I need a boost of color after a cold bare winter. Thank you.

Warm regards,

Dear Mary,

There are a number of plants to look for as the weather warms, plenty to inspire and enjoy. The weather starts to improve as we approach and pass the spring equinox, Thursday, March 19, 11:50 pm. On the equinox, the length of day and night is nearly equal in all parts of the world. The spring and fall equinoxes are the only two times a year that the sun rises directly due east and sets directly due west for all of us on Earth. After the spring equinox, the northern hemisphere tilts towards the sun, which is why we start to get longer, sunnier days. Can’t wait!

Spring weather is unpredictable but there are spring flowers hardy enough to handle it. Listed below are some annuals, bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs that provide early spring blooms.


Be on the lookout for flats of flowers for sale at nurseries, garden centers, big box stores, even supermarkets. Not all can take heavy frosts. Pansies are probably the most reliable. And if you have a porch overhang, pansies and a few others are dependable — violets, dianthus and snapdragons.


This is the time of year when our spring-blooming bulbs that were planted in the fall really pay off. The earliest blooming bulbs are white snowdrops (Galanthus) and yellow winter aconite (Eranthis). Both of these plants spread happily and are such a joy to see along the ground. Other early bloomers include crocus, glory-of-the-snow, spring snowflake, miniature iris, scilla and anemone.


There are some lovely early blooming perennials to appreciate — Lenten rose (Hellebore), creeping phlox (Phlox subulata), trillium and bloodroot (Sanguinaria). There are also some low-growing rock garden plants that bloom early as the sun warms up the ground — rock cress (Arabis), sea pink (Armeria), basket of gold (Aurinia) and candytuft (Iberis).  Other early spring blooming perennials include Brunnera, deadnettle (Lamium), ajuga and forget-me-not.

Trees and shrubs

Trees and shrubs have dormant above-ground woody structures that we anxiously anticipate coming to life in spring.  Our temperate zone trees and shrubs are bare naked half the year.  And just when we think that we can’t stand another day of dreary nothingness, the ground starts to thaw, plant roots pull up water from the ground and transport it to leaf and flower bud so the plant can burst forth from its winter dormancy.  This is a good time to find pussy willow, forsythia, witchhazel (Hamamelis spp.), daphne, Korean spice bush (Viburnum carlesii) and evergreen Japanese andromedia (Pieris japonica).

While you stroll through Laurelwood Arboretum looking at early spring blooming plants, you might want to participate in Wayne Walks, a township-wide fitness program.  Registration is required.  For information and details, go to

“For glad Spring has begun,
and to the ardent sun
the Earth, long time so bleak,
turns a frost-bitten cheek.”
     Celia Thaxter, 1835-1894

Happy spring!

Elaine Fogerty, Executive Director

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