From tulips to chrysanthemums, our series “The Language of Flowers” explores everything from fresh flower care tips to flower symbolism and meaning.
When winter is over and temperatures rise, days lengthen, and plants and trees burst into bloom, spring arrives for a fresh start. From daffodils to azaleas, there are so many flowers, shrubs, and trees that put on a colorful show. Whether you enjoy them in bouquets or planters, or tend them in your yard, spring flowers are sure to boost your mood put an extra spring in your step.
Familiar spring bulbs
Bulbs are among the most familiar spring flowers. If planted correctly, they will come back year after year, brightening your garden with color and fragrance. Most bulbs should be planted in the fall unless they were from sprouted bulbs in a pot. Those can be planted after flowering in the spring. Bulbs have unique underground storage structures that help nourish the plants throughout the year.
The cheerful daffodil is a well-known symbol of spring with its familiar yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers bobbing in the breeze. There are many cultivars of daffodils that come in mixtures of white, pink, red, or orange, in addition to the standard yellow. Daffodils should be planted in early autumn in the sun or partial shade to a depth of six inches. Be sure the nose of the bulb (the pointed end) is up and the flat side is down.
Most tulip species are native to Central Asia in what used to be the Ottoman Empire. In the late 1500s, Carolus Clusius, director of the botanical garden at the University of Leiden, brought tulip bulbs from Constantinople back to Holland. Nurseries began to produce them in huge numbers, and the great tulip craze, or Tulipomania, began in the 1600s. Today, billions of tulip bulbs are produced and exported from Holland. Many varieties are available in different colors and sizes. Tulips should be planted in the early fall in the sun or partial shade to a depth of six inches with the pointed end up.
Hyacinths delight us in the spring with their spikes of blue, pink, purple, or white flowers and their strong, sweet fragrance. They are popular bulbs that can be grown in the garden, in a pot, or in a bulb vase with water. Plant hyacinths four inches down, or six inches down in cold regions, in the sun or partial shade with the pointed tip up and the flat side down.
Spring flowering crocuses are among the first flowers that poke their heads up in late winter or spring. They are not true bulbs but are classified as corms that have solid underground storage structures. Crocuses come in a variety of colors — white, blue, pink, lavender, purple, yellow, orange, or multi-colored. Spring flowering crocuses should be planted in the early autumn in sun or partial shade to a depth of three inches.
Herbaceous perennials are those plants that grow and bloom in the spring, die back as the season progresses, and then come to life again in succeeding springs. The plants listed below have fibrous roots that grow down in the soil.
Jaunty little pansies with cute faces are among the first flowers to plant in the spring. And if conditions are favorable, they will bloom again the following year. To give them the best chance to come back again, pansies need a temperate climate in a sunny, protected spot and mulch to insulate their roots from the cold weather. Pinch off the seedpods to keep them blooming throughout the season.
Bleeding hearts bloom early in the spring with little pink or white heart-shaped flowers on arching stems. They generally like shade to partial shade but may appreciate some sun in colder regions. They like to be kept moist, so mulch them to retain soil moisture, and to protect their roots from the winter cold.
Creeping phlox is a charming, low-growing perennial that is densely covered with little pink, white, or lavender flowers in the spring. It is often seen tumbling over a rock wall or filling in a flat space in the garden. Creeping phlox grows nicely in sun to partial shade and can be trimmed back if it spreads too far afield.
The primrose, or polyantha, is a cheery little flower that is usually sold in garden centers in the late winter. As houseplants, they don’t last long unless they have bright light, moist soil, and high humidity. They are best grown in the garden in sun to light shade with moist, well-draining soil. Primroses will bloom from spring straight through the summer with the right conditions, and the flowers come in yellow, orange, pink, red, white, and cream.
Shrubs are woody plants that are either evergreen or deciduous, and that can grow low to the ground or to the height of a small tree, and any size in between.
Bright yellow forsythia flowers on long branches make their appearance before the leaves and are an iconic announcement of spring. Forsythia shrubs are very easy to grow, are deciduous, and will root anywhere their arching branches touch the ground. They can be easily pruned to keep their shape and do best in full sun with well-draining soil.
Bright azaleas with their white, pink, red, purple, or white flowers bring a yard to life in the spring when they burst into bloom. Healthy azaleas are covered in blossoms and make quite a statement. They are acid-loving shrubs that are either evergreen or deciduous. Japanese azaleas are evergreen and are small, only up to three feet high, and do well in containers. Deciduous azaleas grow to five feet and do best planted in the garden. Both types like sun to partial shade and acidic mulch, like pine needles, to protect their roots and keep the pH down.
Flowering quince is a lovely spring-blooming shrub with a bonus — fruit that can be made into jams and jellies. Its two-inch orange, white, pink, or red flowers bloom on the branches for about two week, and then develop into yellowish-green fruit after the leaves appear in summer. Flowering quince is thorny, so it is an excellent border or barrier shrub that grows in sun or partial shade.
Lilacs are an old-time favorite shrub with heart-shaped deciduous leaves and clusters of sweetly fragrant pink, purple, or white flowers that bloom in the spring. They are perfect in a shrub border, along a fence, or at the corner of a building. Lilacs like a good amount of sun, and moist, but very well-draining soil.
Spring flowering trees
Flowering trees are either deciduous or evergreen. They make a striking statement on a property because of their larger size clothed in spring flowers.
Magnolias have a lot of charm and are a symbol of the American South. But there are many types, both deciduous and evergreen, that will grow in the various climates around the country.
Deciduous magnolias bloom on bare branches in the spring before the large leaves appear, and evergreen types bloom later after the leaves have emerged. Their bold, cup-shaped, pink, or white flowers develop into cones with bright red seeds in the fall. Evergreen magnolias prefer full sun, and deciduous types do best in partial shade. Both kinds like moist, but well-draining soil.
The dogwood is a beautiful, spreading tree that is covered in white, or sometimes pink, blossoms in the spring. There are many species of dogwood, deciduous and evergreen. Whatever your choice, give your dogwood partial or dappled sun, and plenty of water in well-draining soil. They do not do well in arid or semi-arid environments.
The exquisite flowering cherry, or sakura, is native to Asia and is the national flower of Japan. Its blossom colors range from white to a delicate light pink to deep pink, depending on the variety. Flowering cherries put on quite a show in the spring, and their attractive leaves turn a shade of orange, red, or purple in the fall. They do best in full sun, and like moderately moist, well-draining soil. They are not happy either in overly wet or dry environments.
Redbud shows off its rosy-pink flowers on the branches in the spring before the heart-shaped leaves unfold. The leaves put on a display themselves by emerging as reddish-purple in the spring, then changing to green in the summer, and to yellow in the fall. Redbud is native to the eastern U.S. but can grow comfortably in many areas of the country. It prefers full sun to partial shade and is tolerant of many soil types as long as they are well-draining.