Early Blooms to Look for in Your Neighborhood

As we inch toward warmer weather and longer days, there’s nothing quite like spotting an early-flowering daffodil or a clump of tiny, hopeful crocuses to remind us that spring really is just around the corner. Early bloomers make great additions to gardens since they provide color when most of the landscape looks pretty bleak.

While some of these cold-tolerant flowers bloom throughout winter in mild climates, most of the following nine blooms are just beginning to open in gardens. Witness these blooms growing in gardens around your neighborhood and community now, noting any you’d like to plant in your garden this spring or, in the case of bulbs, next fall.

Crocus

Small but mighty, most crocuses stand less than 6 inches tall, yet they have a powerful effect both in the garden and, in the case of saffron crocus (C. sativus), the kitchen. Snow crocus (C. chrysanthus) is among the first species to bloom in late winter or spring, with delicate flowers poking up from bare or snowy ground. A little later, Dutch crocus emerges with flowers that are purple, white, yellow or a streaked combination of all three colors.

Plant crocus corms in fall in masses under deciduous trees or in containers in full sun. The plants will not readily naturalize in areas with mild winters, so it’s best to space corms tightly from the start in these areas.

  • Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (USDA zones 3 to 10; find your zone)
  • Water requirement: Regular during blooming time and spring growth
  • Light requirement: Full to partial sun, especially in hot summers
  • When to plant: Fall

 

Snowdrop

Some of the earliest bloomers in cold climates, snowdrops earned their common name for their perseverance in growing and blooming even through snow. In mild-winter regions, such as California and parts of the South, snowdrops begin blooming in midwinter.

Plant in clumps in woodland gardens or beneath flowering shrubs, dividing only when necessary every few years just after the bloom. Giant snowdrop has longer stems and bigger flowers, and performs more reliably in mild-winter areas than common snowdrop (C. nivalis).

  • Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (zones 3 to 8)
  • Water requirement: Regular
  • Light requirement: Full to partial sun
  • When to plant: Fall

 

Winter Jasmine

This deciduous vining shrub brightens walls and arbors with sunshine-yellow flowers in late winter before it, as well as many other trees and shrubs, begins to leaf. The cold-tolerant blossoms will open even in snow. Grow it against a sunny wall or where it can cascade down a slope — stems that touch the ground will root. The flowers will attract bees as well as pollinating birds appreciative of the early source of nectar.

  • Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 23.3 degrees Celsius (zones 6 to 9)
  • Water requirement: Regular
  • Light requirement: Full to partial sun
  • When to plant: Spring or fall; those in mild climates can plant in winter

 

Flowering Quince

One of the earliest-blooming shrubs, flowering quince pumps out near-fluorescent blooms that are hot pink, orange or red, as well as more subdued peach and white, for a few months in spring. Place cut branches in a vase inside and let the flowers open. Plant in woodland gardens or at the back of a yard, or site it front and center if you plan to keep it pruned.

  • Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 26.1 degrees Celsius (zones 5 to 10)
  • Water requirement: Regular
  • Light requirement: Full to partial sun
  • When to plant: Spring or fall; those in mild climates can plant in winter

 

Narcissus

The small-flowering types of narcissus, like the one commonly called paperwhite (N. papyraceus), usually bloom earlier than larger daffodils. In mild-winter climates, some narcissus will start flowering in early winter and bloom throughout the season. Many are intensely fragrant.

Plant narcissus bulbs in fall in drifts or along walls in sunny spots of the garden or in containers. You can also force bulbs inside or in a greenhouse. In those conditions, it will generally flower six weeks after being exposed to light and water.

  • Where it will grow: Hardiness varies by species. Many are hardy to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 31.7 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 9).
  • Water requirement: Regular during growth and bloom periods; keep the soil dry when the plant is dormant
  • Light requirement: Full to partial sun
  • When to plant: Fall

 

Hellebore

Lovely hellebore, also called lenten rose, is not a rose at all but rather a flowering perennial that blooms in midwinter and early spring. The nodding cup-shaped flowers come in a range of soft pinks, mauves, creamy whites and pale greens.

Grow it under flowering shrubs or trees, or along a north-facing wall or in other partially shaded areas, preferably with slightly alkaline soil. Hellebore also will thrive in containers and window boxes as long as the soil is kept moist.

  • Where it will grow: Hardiness varies by species. Many are hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 34.4 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 9).
  • Water requirement: Regular
  • Light requirement: Full to partial shade
  • When to plant: Set out plants in late winter or early spring. Sow seeds in fall.

 

Forsythia

In late winter and early spring, this exuberant flowering shrub shows masses of yellow flowers that celebrate the arrival of the new season. In cold regions, look for hardy hybrids such as ‘Northern Sun’, ‘Meadowlark’ and ‘New Hampshire Gold’ — all of which will sport blossoms even if temperatures fall into negative degrees Fahrenheit.

Plant forsythia as a backdrop shrub, where it will stand out in spring and then fade from view once medium green leaves replace the blooms.

  • Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 37.2 degrees Celsius (zones 3 to 9)
  • Water requirement: Regular
  • Light requirement: Full sun
  • When to plant: Spring or fall; those in mild climates can plant in winter