While the rest of the trees in the garden or forest remain lifeless and dormant, some trees break forth with a refreshing burst of color anytime from late winter to early spring, depending on the arrival of warmth. These ornamental flowering trees make lovely companions for the spring bulbs that cloak the ground, like winter aconite, snowdrop, crocus and the first daffodils. The best sources for recommendations of trees that are hardy to your region's climate and soils are your plant nursery or cooperative extension office.
Small, ribbon-like flowers dangle from all branches on witch hazels (Hamamelis spp.) in late spring or early spring. Ranging in color from canary yellow to orange, red and bronze-rust, they often carry a spicy fragrance. Prune away lowest branches to ensure these large shrubs attain a classic tree-like form.
Not a cherry whatsoever but a species of dogwood, Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) displays tiny, wispy flower clusters of yellow to gold in the fleeting days of late winter.
Violet-pink flowers emerge from buds on branch tips as well as bare branches and trunks on redbuds (Cercis canadensis). Selections with white flowers are available. The Chinese redbud (Cercis chinensis) remains smaller and narrower and tolerates more soil conditions than other varieties.
Ornamental Cherries and Apricots
Five trees from the botanical genus Prunus are worth considering to bring early spring color to the landscape. Cherry trees that bloom early include the Okame cherry (Prunus 'Okame'), Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yeodensis), Taiwan or bell-shaped cherry (Prunus campanulata), Manchurian apricot (Prunus armeniaca var. mandshurica) and Japanese apricot (Prunus mume).
Subtropical gardeners living in Florida, southern Texas, Southern California and Hawaii might enjoy the colorful trumpet-shaped flowers on trumpet trees beginning in February and lasting into the latter half of March. Of particular note are the ipe, or purple, trumpet tree (Tabebuia impetiginosa) and the golden trumpet tree (Tabebuia chrysotricha).