beating forsythia to spring’s flowering-shrub punch: a slideshow of earliest-blooming stars

Corylopsis spicata, or winter-hazel, bloomingLOCAL FORSYTHIA opened fully this last week, but even if they hadn’t, I’d already be on my eighth species of spring-flowering shrub, happily surrounded by delicate blossoms, some of which are even fragrant. My best early blooming shrubs you may wish to invite into your home landscape, too, with a slideshow:

Remember: I’m all about the 365-day garden, even here in Zone 5B in the Hudson Valley of New York State, where frost happens in May and again in October. By planting extra-early (and extra-late) showoffs, including shrubs that flower at one extreme end of the season or get fiery foliage or fruit at the other (or maybe have great bark or structure when “naked”), I stretch the season to fill the calendar with visual treats.

winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissimaThe woody-plant bloom schedule begins here in late January to mid-February, weather depending (update: in 2014 it was late March instead!), and by late April look at what has already happened, or is currently under way or about to pop. Follow the green links to the full plant portraits from the archives or another reference:

Cornus mas flower detail

Next up:

Bottom-line advice: When you go to the garden center this spring, don’t just bring home what’s in peak form that day. Do your research before shopping, or ask at the garden center to be directed to what was looking good in February or March—or what promises to be fabulous in December. The garden will thank you.

the slideshow of early shrubs

CLICK THE FIRST thumbnail to start the slides, then use your keyboard arrows (or the arrows on each photo) to toggle from image to image.

  1. Nice group of shrubs for early interest. We can take this list to the nursery for some ‘shopping’. I like to have structure in the garden, even in the winter, and these will do nicely. Thanks.

  2. Some of the best gardening advice I ever received was when planning a garden, design it for winter. I don’t always follow that advice–oops–but I love your selection of early flowering shrubs (especially the Koreanspice Viburnum) and it’s inspiring me to rethink some of my plans for next year. :)

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    Valuable list. I’ll keep it on my smart phone for shopping.

    BTW, my Shadbush is spectacular this year (5B, Indiana)

  4. Nina says:

    Great list of the earliest shrubs to join the spring parade. I’m a big fan of spirea ‘Ogon” – it blooms early (zone 6 mid April) then yields striking gold color leaves. The small white blooms follow up and down the branches like later blooming Bridal Wreaths….
    In fact, the other kinds of spirea are also my favorites …..Their early emerging leaves display beautiful colors before becoming green and the blooms are wonderful; plus some will even rebloom. Tough plant that can tolerate any soil conditions and transplanting…..

    1. margaret says:

      Me, too, Nina. I love it — and it starts here in late April usually (might be a week or so late this cold year!). Great plant.

  5. Susan Greenstein says:

    Love the list. When we lived in Westchester county, NY (Montrose), a Dirca palustris came with our garden. It was a wonderful shrub, very unusual. Sadly it was destroyed when a huge branch fell on it in a storm. Now that we’re up here in Woodstock, NY, I’d love to have it again. Any idea where to buy one? I’ve looked and looked but haven’t found a source.

  6. Brigitte says:

    Hi, so the first photo is leatherwood? I tried to compare pix from slideshow to it. It’s just stunning. You have such a wonderful garden!

  7. jane says:

    wonderfull slideshow, margaret .. as i’m on the opposite coast to you .. and in british columbia .. i’m always interested and delighted to glimpse what’s happening in gardens in other parts of the planet ..

    here, i’m privileged to work in a winter flowering shade garden, which blooms from september through may .. the shrubs include three different witchhazels, two corylopsis, three different daphnes, including mezereum, and a winter flowering cherry .. all in a sea of cyclamen and hellebores .. it’s so wonderfull to have a garden to watch through the winter months ..

    so delighted to have discovered your site .. thank you ..

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Jane. I wish we had more winter potential here, but it gets tough until the witch-hazels and pussy willows start up — usually February-ish, but sometimes late March (like this cold year).

  8. Vickie says:

    I miss forsythia. We had them in New York where I grew up. Now I live in California and they don’t grow here. I enjoyed your photos.

  9. Tracy says:

    The spirea is wonderful today! I have white and lavender lilac blooming at the same time now. They do not always appear together in spite of the fact that they share a bed. I lost my dogwood in the drought. I can not wait for the mock orange to show itself. It is an old favorite.

  10. Molly Logan says:

    Great list! We have some you mentioned and will add more. Rough winter/early spring in NE Ohio – 5B. None of our Witch Hazel nor our large Cornus Mas shrubs bloomed, the cold took the flowers, but they are beginning to leaf out. The climbing rose canes have died but we see some new growth at the base and saddest of all, the wisteria, which finally has grown the length of our front porch, shows no signs of life. We are weeks behind a usual spring, so we will continue to keep fingers crossed for hopeful signs. BUT, the magnolias and the bulbs are putting on a glorious show and the Viburnum Carlisii is ready to pop. Gardening is a yearly challenge, but well worth the effort.

  11. Bill Plummer says:

    You missed two Rhododendrons: dauricum with white flowers and mucronu;atum. Cornell Pink is the one commonly available, but there is a white form, the “type” and some dwarf seclections. Not to mention the PJM seies from Weston Nurseries

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.