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Spring Flowers

By: Garden Gate staff
Check out 3 spring blooms that can transform any shady spot.

Striking spring flowers

Get color everywhere in your yard! And shade doesn’t have to be the exception, especially esppecially when it comes to spring flowers. Whether buds are poking up through the last patches of snow or a blossom greets you on the first sunny and warm day, unique spring flowers can instantly brighten any spot — even dappled light or dense shade.

The plants featured here take varying degrees of light, so after trees’ canopies leaf out fully, they can still thrive. Some, such as sharp-lobed hepatica, are among the first blooms in early spring. And others, like the pink-blooming bergenia, will transition your garden from late spring to early summer.

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Unique spring flowers attract early pollinators

No matter if these flowers open in early, mid- or late spring, though, they provide some of the first food for pollinators as temps start to warm and beneficial insects become more active. The variety of bloom shapes and sizes not only adds a variety of texture to your garden, but it also attracts a diverse range of pollinators. Scroll on to learn more about each of these peculiar spring beauties — they might be just the spring flowers you need to brighten up your garden.

Planting spring flowers

Many spring bloomers are bulbs that need to be planted in the fall. Using a bulb auger will make the job a cinch. It's usually a good idea to amend the soil with an organic compost at planting time.

Reticulated iris (Iris reticulata)

This diminutive member of the iris family is also one of the earliest irises to bloom in spring. Fragrant 2½-inch flowers, held on leafless stems, start to open about the same time as snowdrops and early crocuses.

Growing Tip

Choose sites with well-drained soil that stays dry during summer — that way, the bulbs won’t rot. If the plants stay too wet they’ll grow leggy stems with few flowers.

Type Bulb Blooms White, yellow, blue or purple blooms in early spring Size 3 to 6 in. tall, 2 to 3 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

White trout lily (Erythronium albidum)

With interesting reflexed, or backward curving, early spring flowers and standout green-and-brown-mottled leaves, this slow-growing flower is worth the wait.

Growing Tip

White trout lily does best when corms are planted in fall instead of grown from seed. Plants spread slowly so don’t dig and divide for more. It goes dormant in summer heat.

Type Perennial Blooms White in early spring, flowers are tinged pink in cold temps Light Part to full shade Size 4 to 8 in. tall, 4 to 6 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Look for bloodroot’s white flowers to poke through the soil in early spring. The fragile flowers only last a few days, but the interesting lobed foliage will stick around into summer.

Growing Tip

Be patient: Bloodroot can be slow to take off. However, given time it’ll spread into colonies that make a great ground cover on a shady slope.

Type Perennial Blooms White blooms in early spring Size 6 to 14 in. tall, 6 to 12 in. wide Light Part to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Spring vetch (Lathyrus vernus)

Spring vetch is a low maintenance mounding perennial that works well at the front of the border or in a container. In the South, pot it up and treat it like an annual because it can’t take heat.

Growing Tip

To grow plants from seed, nick the surface before sowing in spring. Spring vetch reseeds once a clump is established, but new plants could take a few years to bloom.

Type Perennial Blooms Red-purple in early to midspring, maturing to blue-purple Light Part to full shade Size 6 to 12 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus spp. and hybrids)

Also called “Carolina allspice,” sweetshrub has very fragrant blooms and glossy green, deer-resistant foliage that turns bright yellow in fall.

Growing Tip

Sweetshrub's naturally rounded shape is easy to maintain — simply prune branches as needed when blooms finish.

Type Shrub Blooms Deep burgundy or wine-colored from midspring to midsummer Light Full sun to part shade Size 5 to 10 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 4 to 9

Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia)

No matter where this perennial grows, its leaves take on a gorgeous bronze or red once the weather starts to cool in fall. In early spring, simply cut back any damaged leaves.

Growing Tip

Although bergenia may have more blooms in more sun, its foliage does best in shade, where soil won’t quickly dry out and cause leaves to burn.

Type Perennial Blooms Pink in spring Light Part to full shade Size 8 to 24 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 3 to 9

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

This is one of the first flowers to appear, often before the snow melts. The small flowers open on sunny days and close at night when temperatures dip below freezing.

Growing Tip

Tubers are often shriveled and dry when they arrive. Before you plant, soak them overnight in warm water to plump them up.

Type Perennial tuber Blooms Yellow blooms in late winter Light Full sun to part shade Size 2 to 3 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7

Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda)

This short flower is easy to tuck under shrubs or perennials that bloom a little later in the season. There, they’ll add a dense mat of color and still get enough dappled light as the foliage and flowers above open.

Growing Tip

While it’s in bloom, make sure soil stays moist, but after flowering is finished, keep the area as dry as you can.

Type Tuberous rhizome Blooms White, pink, blue or purple daisylike flowers in midspring Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 6 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 4 to 8

Tulip (Tulipa spp. and hybrids)

There are some plants that just stand for a certain season, and nothing says “spring” as loud and clear as tulips! You’ll find nearly any color and even flowers streaked with two or three colors. Some are that classic tulip shape while others have fringed or ruffled edges, double blooms or elegant, pointed, lily-shaped flowers.

Growing Tip

Like most bulbs, tulips bloom best in a spot that’s sunny in the spring, but they’re perfectly content under big shade trees that leaf out after they’re up and blooming. Just make sure they’re in well-drained soil, or the bulbs can rot.

Type Bulb Blooms Wide range of bloom colors from early to late spring Size 4 to 24 in. tall, 3 to 5 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Daffodil (Narcissus spp. and hybrids)

Daffodils are a sure sign of spring! These iconic bulbs are rabbit- and deer-proof, plus, they will continue to return year after year each spring.

Growing Tip

Plant daffodil bulbs three times deeper than their height in early autumn to give them time to establish roots while the ground is warm.

Type Bulb Blooms White, pink, pale salmon, yellow or orange blooms in spring Size 4 to 24 in. tall, 3 to 12 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 10

Sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)

In early spring, thin, fuzzy flowers in shades of pale blue, pale pink or white emerge from the previous year's dead foliage. The mottled, pointed, three-lobed leaves in the inset photo don’t appear until after plants bloom.

Growing Tip

Sharp-lobed hepatica doesn’t like to be disturbed. So instead of digging and dividing, try collecting and sowing seeds just after the seedheads form, or let this slow-spreading native wildflower self-seed.

Type Perennial Blooms Pale blue, pale pink or white in early spring Light Part shade Size 4 to 8 in. tall, 6 to 10 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Cowslip (Primula veris)

As you can see in the photo of yellow ‘Katy McSparron’, above, cowslips have a lot to offer the early spring garden. Colorful flowers, either single or double, open atop sturdy stems and bloom for several weeks.

Growing Tip

Extra mulch will help them survive through winter in the coldest parts of their growing range.

Type Perennial Blooms Fragrant yellow blooms in early spring Size 6 to 12 in. tall, 12 to 16 in. wide Light Full sun to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Reticulated iris (Iris reticulata)

This diminutive member of the iris family is also one of the earliest irises to bloom in spring. Fragrant 2½-inch flowers, held on leafless stems, start to open about the same time as snowdrops and early crocuses.

Growing Tip

Choose sites with well-drained soil that stays dry during summer — that way, the bulbs won’t rot. If the plants stay too wet they’ll grow leggy stems with few flowers.

Type Bulb Blooms White, yellow, blue or purple blooms in early spring Size 3 to 6 in. tall, 2 to 3 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

This is one of the first flowers to appear, often before the snow melts. The small flowers open on sunny days and close at night when temperatures dip below freezing.

Growing Tip

Tubers are often shriveled and dry when they arrive. Before you plant, soak them overnight in warm water to plump them up.

Type Perennial tuber Blooms Yellow blooms in late winter Light Full sun to part shade Size 2 to 3 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7

White trout lily (Erythronium albidum)

With interesting reflexed, or backward curving, early spring flowers and standout green-and-brown-mottled leaves, this slow-growing flower is worth the wait.

Growing Tip

White trout lily does best when corms are planted in fall instead of grown from seed. Plants spread slowly so don’t dig and divide for more. It goes dormant in summer heat.

Type Perennial Blooms White in early spring, flowers are tinged pink in cold temps Light Part to full shade Size 4 to 8 in. tall, 4 to 6 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda)

This short flower is easy to tuck under shrubs or perennials that bloom a little later in the season. There, they’ll add a dense mat of color and still get enough dappled light as the foliage and flowers above open.

Growing Tip

While it’s in bloom, make sure soil stays moist, but after flowering is finished, keep the area as dry as you can.

Type Tuberous rhizome Blooms White, pink, blue or purple daisylike flowers in midspring Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 6 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 4 to 8

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Look for bloodroot’s white flowers to poke through the soil in early spring. The fragile flowers only last a few days, but the interesting lobed foliage will stick around into summer.

Growing Tip

Be patient: Bloodroot can be slow to take off. However, given time it’ll spread into colonies that make a great ground cover on a shady slope.

Type Perennial Blooms White blooms in early spring Size 6 to 14 in. tall, 6 to 12 in. wide Light Part to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Tulip (Tulipa spp. and hybrids)

There are some plants that just stand for a certain season, and nothing says “spring” as loud and clear as tulips! You’ll find nearly any color and even flowers streaked with two or three colors. Some are that classic tulip shape while others have fringed or ruffled edges, double blooms or elegant, pointed, lily-shaped flowers.

Growing Tip

Like most bulbs, tulips bloom best in a spot that’s sunny in the spring, but they’re perfectly content under big shade trees that leaf out after they’re up and blooming. Just make sure they’re in well-drained soil, or the bulbs can rot.

Type Bulb Blooms Wide range of bloom colors from early to late spring Size 4 to 24 in. tall, 3 to 5 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Spring vetch (Lathyrus vernus)

Spring vetch is a low maintenance mounding perennial that works well at the front of the border or in a container. In the South, pot it up and treat it like an annual because it can’t take heat.

Growing Tip

To grow plants from seed, nick the surface before sowing in spring. Spring vetch reseeds once a clump is established, but new plants could take a few years to bloom.

Type Perennial Blooms Red-purple in early to midspring, maturing to blue-purple Light Part to full shade Size 6 to 12 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Daffodil (Narcissus spp. and hybrids)

Daffodils are a sure sign of spring! These iconic bulbs are rabbit- and deer-proof, plus, they will continue to return year after year each spring.

Growing Tip

Plant daffodil bulbs three times deeper than their height in early autumn to give them time to establish roots while the ground is warm.

Type Bulb Blooms White, pink, pale salmon, yellow or orange blooms in spring Size 4 to 24 in. tall, 3 to 12 in. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 10

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus spp. and hybrids)

Also called “Carolina allspice,” sweetshrub has very fragrant blooms and glossy green, deer-resistant foliage that turns bright yellow in fall.

Growing Tip

Sweetshrub's naturally rounded shape is easy to maintain — simply prune branches as needed when blooms finish.

Type Shrub Blooms Deep burgundy or wine-colored from midspring to midsummer Light Full sun to part shade Size 5 to 10 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 4 to 9

Sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)

In early spring, thin, fuzzy flowers in shades of pale blue, pale pink or white emerge from the previous year's dead foliage. The mottled, pointed, three-lobed leaves in the inset photo don’t appear until after plants bloom.

Growing Tip

Sharp-lobed hepatica doesn’t like to be disturbed. So instead of digging and dividing, try collecting and sowing seeds just after the seedheads form, or let this slow-spreading native wildflower self-seed.

Type Perennial Blooms Pale blue, pale pink or white in early spring Light Part shade Size 4 to 8 in. tall, 6 to 10 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia)

No matter where this perennial grows, its leaves take on a gorgeous bronze or red once the weather starts to cool in fall. In early spring, simply cut back any damaged leaves.

Growing Tip

Although bergenia may have more blooms in more sun, its foliage does best in shade, where soil won’t quickly dry out and cause leaves to burn.

Type Perennial Blooms Pink in spring Light Part to full shade Size 8 to 24 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 3 to 9

Cowslip (Primula veris)

As you can see in the photo of yellow ‘Katy McSparron’, above, cowslips have a lot to offer the early spring garden. Colorful flowers, either single or double, open atop sturdy stems and bloom for several weeks.

Growing Tip

Extra mulch will help them survive through winter in the coldest parts of their growing range.

Type Perennial Blooms Fragrant yellow blooms in early spring Size 6 to 12 in. tall, 12 to 16 in. wide Light Full sun to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work in the garden. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

Related Tags

annuals tender perennials part shade perennials plant recommendations shade shrubs spring

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