Plants for Early Season Bloom

Forsythia in Bloom at the Gardens on Spring Creek's North Walkway; Photo by the Gardens on Spring Creek

Bryan Fischer, Horticulturist, Gardens on Spring Creek


Whether it’s the short days, the cold temps or the lingering effects of COVID – let’s face it, we are all sick of it. Rather than dwell on what cannot be controlled, I thought I would share a few plants that I watch in the coming weeks for precocious blooms. There are more in our region than one might expect, and most can be cultivated without fuss. 

A personal favorite of mine, perhaps due to what I would describe as “novelty factor”, is Erica carnea or winter heath, which is budding up now for a flush of bloom in our Rock Garden. The only member of the heath genus that I’ve ever seen tolerate our alkaline soils, when in bloom, this plant is unlike anything else in our region’s gardens. 

The ‘Springwood White’ variety smothers itself in small, clean-white, dangling flowers.  Slow-growing and attractive year-round as a soft-textured, dark green mound with needle-like leaves, the plant requires modest amounts of water and does best when planted in a semi-shaded, protected site.  My specimen remains about 15 inches across and five inches tall.  ‘Springwood Pink’ offers near-magenta blooms on a comparable plant. 

Erica; Photo by the Gardens on Spring Creek

Often referred to as Lenten-rose due to the timing of its bloom, the genus Helleborus (including a variety of species, hybrids, and cultivars) contains some of the most versatile garden plants of this article.  I enjoy how their hand-sized, glossy, dark green to nearly purple leaves really stand out against our beige-dominated winter gardens, as they remain nearly evergreen. The real reason folks grow the genus, though, is for its winter blooms.  These two- to three-inch flowers blossom in a diversity of colors, ranging from pistachio green to rose and even near-black, popping up defiantly in late winter and lasting for weeks. 

Don’t forget, that many of the popular manzanita (Arctostaphylos scientifically) species, cultivars, and hybrids available in our region’s nurseries are early blooming, broadleaf evergreens, too. I’ve often seen them flush their clusters of mauve-white, bell-like blooms in March, to the delight of honeybees. A variety of them are available in different shapes and sizes ranging from a few inches to a few feet tall, with several of them even making it into the Plant Select® line.

If none of these options deliver the injection of drama your space (or year) could use, consider a forsythia (Forsythia species, cultivars, and hybrids). Blooming in early April, these shrubs dress in golden-yellow flowers before they even produce a leaf. I consider them to be showiest when illuminated by morning or evening sun; glowing yellow flowers on white stems make quite the statement. Both manzanita and forsythia are best in sites with more sun than the above plants. 

Consider a walk around your neighborhood, a visit to your local nursery, or a visit to the Gardens on Spring Creek to catch these tastes of spring as they come into season. Our social media pages are a great place to remain apprised of our current garden “happenings”.

After all, seeing a plant in the ground is one of the best ways to determine if you actually have an interest in growing it.  

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