Spring isn't spring without flowers. Whether you live in a tiny studio apartment or your ambition is to create a naturalized landscape on 100 acres, there is a perfect spring flower for you. Here are 30 suggestions that can help you find just the right species of plant for your spring flowers.
Everyone can have their own spring flower display. Whether you are forcing a single bulb to add color to your studio apartment or you are planting a naturalized landscape of spring flowers across 100 acres, you can grow flowers to enjoy every spring — but you may have to plant them in the fall.
Here are 30 of the prettiest spring flowers and everything you need to know to get started for growing them on your own. I’ve grown all of these spring flowers myself, so I can attest that no special talents are required for creating a glorious display of the prettiest spring flowers.
Gardeners across the Southeastern United States take pride in spring displays of azaleas. These hardy perennial shrubs require acidic (pH 6.0 or lower soil) and protection from heat and drought, thriving under deciduous trees.
Azaleas have demanding requirements for soil acidity and moisture. I once grew the only stand of azaleas for 100 miles around, but at considerable expense. It’s possible to grow azaleas in areas with alkaline soils, but you will have to dig out a pit at least 3 feet (about a meter) deep and 3 feet (about a meter) wide to give them a favorable growing medium.
Blanket Flower, also known as Gaillardia
When you are planting blanket flowers, think big. Sporting petals of red and yellow and brown, this North American flower can easily “blanket” the ground in mass plantings. All you have to do is to leave it alone for a few years.
While you can find blanket flowers in pots at nursery centers, it’s much less expensive to grow them from seed. Once you get a stand of blanket flowers growing, new flowering stalks will come up from tubers around the first year’s plants. There isn’t a lot you have to do to keep blanket flowers going other than to avoid mowing them. Blanket flowers will come back for a month-long bloom without any attention at all year after year.
Bluebell (also known as Grape Hyacinth or Muscari in the United States and Bluebonnet in other parts of the English-speaking world)
Bluebell is a beautiful spring plant with a confusing name. Unlike the American Bluebonnet (lupine) that is grown from seed, the bluebell, or grape hyacinth, or muscari, is grown from bulbs planted in the fall in warmer climates (USDA Hardiness Zones 7 and higher) or early spring in colder climates (USDA Hardiness Zones 6 and lower). The plant only stands about 6 inches (15 cm) high but adds beautiful color around the border of a spring flower bed. Bluebells can also be forced indoors for winter bloom.
(Lupinus texensis. There are other similar, larger lupine species.)
Texans like to grow bluebonnets in plantings of Texas-sized proportions, sometimes hundreds of acres. The Texan writing this article once planted them along 15 miles of roadside. But these miniature lupines also provide weeks of spring color in garden beds until they put on seed pods (they are a relative of the bean) that pop open in late summer and germinate in fall to produce the next year’s color.
Bluebonnets prefer alkaline soil. A pH of 8 is fine. You can find directions about soaking seeds in acid solutions or scarring them with a knife to accelerate germination, but this isn’t necessary. Just realize that some seeds won’t germinate until they have weathered for two or three years.
Bluebonnets aren’t fussy about fertilizer or watering, but they do need enough moisture to germinate in early autumn and put on growth before winter cold. Snow is an ideal protective cover for bluebonnets. After bloom, the seed pods burst and fall to the ground before moving down the dead plants, and you won’t need to plant bluebonnets for next year’s spring display.
Butterfly weed, also known as Milkweed
When I was young, there would be two or three days every spring and two or three days every fall when monarch butterflies were so numerous that they formed a cloud that blocked sunlight. Hundreds of millions of butterflies would descend and spend the night in several acres of pasture my family allowed to go fallow and grow butterfly weed.
These butterflies still migrate at the nearest surviving similar stand of butterfly weed, about 200 miles further west.
Butterfly weed is the larval food of queen and monarch butterflies. Its flowers produce nectar that attracts bees and hummingbirds. You can sew butterfly weed seed but it’s almost impossible to grow as transplants.
Growing cactus isn’t so much about what you do as it is about what you don’t do. Don’t water! That is, don’t water your cactus except for the first few weeks after you plant it in its final location. Don’t water the pads you remove from the plant to produce baby cacti. Spring blooms leave edible pads known as tunas. You can turn them into an unusual dessert, and you can eat the pads as a cooked vegetable that tastes a lot like vinegary green beans — just be sure to remove all the spines before cooking.
Chionodoxa, also known as Glory of the Snow
Chionodoxa is a wildflower in some of the places where you would least expect it, like the deserts of New Mexico. This tough little plant blooms when the days get long enough in spring despite cold temperatures.
(Crocus sativus L.)
The tiny crocus is one of the first flowers of spring, often blooming a full month or more before last frost. There’s not a lot you have to do to ensure a beautiful stand of crocus. Ideally, you should plant crocus bulbs in sandy or gritty soil in a well-drained location, but I had crocus come up every year on its own in clay soil with frequent standing water for more than 20 years. Plant crocus bulbs to a depth about twice their height, three times if you live in a region where the soil freezes, and protect from extreme winter cold with loose mulch.
(Narcissus poeticus. L.)
Millions of gardeners can’t imagine spring without daffodils. Although these bulb plants thrive in rich, moist soil with a slightly acidic pH under deciduous trees, they are adaptable to most soils and most climates. They create attached “daughter bulbs” and take over landscapes if they are allowed to reproduce undisturbed.
All daffodils are subject to rot when they are kept too wet, so be sure to plant them in a well-drained location. Plant daffodils at a depth 1-1/2 times their height if the ground does not freeze where you live but at a depth of 5 times their height if you live in a place where the ground freezes in winter.
Where gardeners grow azaleas, you will often also find dogwoods. The tree gets its name from its ancient use for making daggers, hence dagwood or dogwood. The white flowers of spring turn into red berries in summer and fall eaten by 32 species of birds.
Don’t attempt to grow dogwoods unless you have dependable, year-round rainfall and acidic soil. Dogwood is happiest as an understory plant beneath older, deciduous trees.
Flowering Cherries, Peaches, Pears, and Plums
Flowering cherries, peaches, pears, and plums add measurable value to a landscape. I once paid my copay for orthopedic surgery in cherry trees for a spring cherry blossom festival.
Many species of stone fruit flowers in the spring but are sterile, so there’s no fruit to worry about. Flowering stone fruit trees make magnificent displays of bloom every spring if you have room for them in your landscape. Ask your local nursery which trees will bloom in your location; all stone fruits need winter cold to bloom.
Forsythia (Forsythia species)
The bright yellow flowers on this shrub practically scream “Springtime!” Forsythia is a popular early-spring flowering plant around the world. The plant can be grown from cuttings in almost any soil and in all but tropical, arctic, and desert climates.
(Hyacinthus litwinowii Tourn. ex L., Hyacinthus orientalis Tourn. ex L., Hyacinthus transcaspicus . Tourn. ex L.)
Throughout the Middle East, the hyacinth is a symbol of spring and rebirth. If you treat hyacinths as an annual you plant in late fall (in mild-winter climates) or early spring (in cold-winter cimates), it’s almost impossible to go wrong. But keep in mind that all parts of the plant are toxic to pets and people.
(Castilleja species, most commercially available seed is Castilleja foliolosa from California although the wildflower in Texas and Oklahoma is Castilleja indivisa, smaller plant)
This fiery red spring flower is a parasite that gets part of its nourishment from the roots of surrounding grass and forbs, such as sunflowers. For that reason, it’s not a good idea to create a planting entirely of paintbrush without the companion plants that feed it. On the other hand, the Indian paintbrush naturalizes well in prairie settings.
Indian paintbrush, like the bluebonnet with which it is naturally paired, is happy growing in rocky, alkaline soil. Seed paintbrush in a location that gets full sun in early fall. It will take several months to germinate.
(iris germanica L. and about 300 other species).
Irises provide weeks of spring and summer colors with very little attention. Although they grow naturally on the edges of bogs and marshes, they need gritty soil or even gravelly soil with good drainage and sunlight for their corms. Divide corms for new plants in late fall when the foliage has died down. Gardeners can share irises with all their neighbors and never have to reduce the size of their plantings.
Jonquil, also known as Rush Daffodil
These brilliantly yellow relatives of the daffodil have similar cultural needs and a similar potential for naturalizing to fill a landscape. But they have a glorious scent.
Lily of the Valley
(Convolaria majalis L.)
Looking for a spring-flowering plant that thrives in alkaline soil? Lily-of-the-valley likes its growing medium to have a pH of about 8.5. But be aware that the white flowers, as well as the red berries and all parts of the plant, are poisonous to both pets and people.
Oenothera, also known as Evening Primrose, sometimes called “Buttercups”
Oenothera (pronounced ee-NAH-ther-ah) is the pink and yellow flower children throughout the Southern United States know as “buttercups.” Although the botanical term “buttercup” belongs to another flower, children often call these flowers buttercups because if you put one up against your nose, your nose will look like you stuck it in a tub of butter.
These hardy plants are grown in gardens from Central America to Finland. They can be adapted to heat and cold and resist drought once you have a stand established. It’s easiest to buy plants at a specialized nursery. Seed may take several years to germinate.
Pansies provide some of the earliest colors in spring. And if you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 and higher, you can also enjoy them during the winter. The limitation of pansies is that they are not heat-tolerant. They will die back when afternoon temperatures reach 85° F (about 29° C) and higher.
Garden centers carry pansies in every imaginable color. Plant them from pots into well-fertilized, well-drained loam, preferably in a part of your garden that receives full sun.
Peonies are among the most beautiful spring flowers in cold-winter locations. The Itoh peonies have leaves like tree peonies but bear large flowers like shrub peonies from early spring to late summer. Peonies can be produced from seed, but most gardeners will prefer to buy plants from their local nursery.
Beautiful and edible, the primrose is a perennial plant that needs a minimum of care. Primroses are available as seed or young plants. The ideal location for planting primroses is well-drained soil in light shade.
Among the first signs of spring is the emergence of the brownish, grayish fur-like catkins of the pussy willow, so named because of their resemblance to cat fur. Willows like to be planted near a reliable source of moisture, like a stream. But they are not fussy about the type of soil in which they grow and they do not need annual fertilizer if they are planted in soil that is at least 3 feet (about a meter) deep.
The redbud is a flowering tree of the bean family. Pink, red, or white blossoms adorn its branches for 2 or 3 weeks around the time of the last frost in spring, followed by small beans. The blossoms are edible. They make a tart addition to salads. Redbuds tolerate a variety of soils and a variety of moisture levels but thrive as understory trees in a deciduous forest.
Do you garden in a location where even spring days can be blast-furnace hot? Here is a plant that can take both heat and cold.
These miniature relatives of the sunflower come in a variety of colors. The same family of plants that includes the yellow and black Black-Eyed Susan also includes “rudbeckia” of bright brown, orange, yellow, and red. Rudbeckia is hardy plants that grown well in hot climates and clay soils. Once you get a stand of rudbeckia started, it will come back every year on its own.
Sensitive Mimosa, also known as Zombie Plant
This creeping vine isn’t very impressive — until you touch it. When disturbed, it folds its leaves in protest and won’t open them up again until you leave. The pink flowers bloom all spring and summer long, but the plant adds year-round fascination to your flower bed for children.
Spring Snowflake Flower, also known as Leucojum
(Leucojum aestivum L. and Leucojum vernum L.)
This plant that looks like upside-down white umbrellas adds color and interest to late spring and early summer gardens. It’s a good choice for a location with boggy clay soil and at least half-day sun.
(Tulipa species, there are about 75 species of tulips)
For some gardeners, it doesn’t spring without tulips. There is a tulip variety for every soil and ever landscaping need. Small Asian tulips can be naturalized into woodland settings, and gigantic hybrid tulips can be placed front and center in formal flower beds.
The best way to guarantee spring blood is to plant fresh bulbs every fall. Tulips prefer slightly acidic to neutral sandy or gritty soil with good drainage. Don’t forget to shelter tall tulips from the wind.