In spring, after a long winter, nothing is more welcome than colorful flowers. With a wide range of sizes, colors, textures and shapes to choose from, no garden should be without at least one spring blooming shrub.
Pinkshell Azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi) is a native deciduous azalea ideal for a woodland garden, shrub border or for naturalizing the landscape. It’s one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring. Its bell-shaped pink to white flowers are spotted within and bloom before the shrub develops its foliage. Pinkshell azalea is very adaptable to a variety of garden conditions. It’s an upright plant that grows to twelve feet.
One of the most common garden shrubs for early spring color is Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia). It blooms along with the spring bulbs when not much else is blooming. Though some gardeners view forsythia as old fashioned and overused, it does have its place as it lights up the garden with an abundance of tiny flowers which range from pale to bright yellow. Forsythia is also easy to grow as it is tolerant of poor soils and requires little care. It thrives in sun or light shade. It is very effective as an informal hedge, privacy screen or backdrop to smaller shrubs and flowers. Allow forsythia to retain its natural shape when pruning. I’ve seen it pruned, in my opinion unsuccessfully, as a formal, geometric hedge.
Some shrubs will flower in late winter, while snow is still on the ground. Such is the case with Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana), grown in Zones 5-8. Its odd but attractive, spidery flowers will tolerate even zero temperatures and give off a sweet fragrance. Overall, the plant has a twisted appearance, branches veering off in all directions. Most witchhazel flowers are yellow though those of the variety ‘Diana’ are coppery red. Witchhazel is ideal for a natural setting such as the woodland garden. Witchhazels prefer well-drained soil and partial shade to full sun but can tolerate shade.
The Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) is another native spring blooming shrub. Its large red flower buds develop into silky white and gray catkins. Reddish brown leaves mature to a dark green. Pussy willow is also a great year-round shrub as its leaves leave turn yellow in fall and its mahogany-red stems add interest to the winter landscape. Pussy willow is a tall shrub (up to 25’) which prefers a sunny location and moist, well-drained soil. Salix discolor looks good in woodland gardens or other naturalistic settings.
Bridal-Wreath Spiraea (Spiraea prunifolia) blooms just after forsythia. Its tiny white flowers, bloom on arching branches and last for about three weeks. In fall, its slender leaves turn a lustrous orange. This shrub thrives in full sun or light shade and should be planted in well-drained soil. A truly low-maintenance shrub with no problems. Graceful arching branches to 9′, spreading to 6′, branches covered with small double white flowers in May-June.Full sun, average soil; a care-free shrub. Occasional pruning my be needed just to maintain shape. Spiraea is ideal as an accent shrub, hedge or within the mixed shrub border.
PJM Rhododendrons (Rhododendron ‘PJM’ Hybrids) are rhododendron hybrids resulting from a cross between R. carolinianum and R. dauricum var. sempervirens. Their lavender-pink flowers bloom abundantly in mid to late April. Smaller the than most other rhododendrons, the PJM is compact with a mounded form. They generally will grow between 4′ to 6′ tall. Its evergreen leaves turn a wonderful deep mahogany-purple in winter. A great shrub for a natural setting as well as the traditional shrub border. They prefer partial shade to full sun and well drained organic soil. PJM are also valued for the hardiness, versatility and easy to grow characteristics. ‘Elite‘, ‘Victor’ and ‘Regal’ are noted cultivars.
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is an early profuse bloomer with, depending on the variety, white, deep pink, coral, red or salmon colored flowers. It has dark, maroon-green leaves which develop as the flowers fade and tart, yellow-green fruits, which can be used for jelly. One notable variety, ‘Toyo-Nishiki,’ has varying shades of red, pink and white all on one plant. Flowering quince is a wonderful, easy care addition to the shrub border. They prefer full sun and are tolerant of a wide range of soil types.
Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) have long been a gardeners staple. Treasured for their showy, colorful, fragrant flowers and heart shape foliage is a wonderful spring blooming shrub. Depending on the variety the flowers range in color from white, pink, blue, lavender to reddish-purple. Double flowered forms are also available. Hardy and tolerant of poor soils (though they don‘t like wet soils), the common lilac is a great easy to grow shrub. They prefer full sun for best performance. Ideal as a hedge or as an individual accent plant. Lilacs are one of the hardiest shrubs for the garden as they can tolerate severely cold winters.