Early spring is a time when garden flowers can be hard to come by. Many winter-bloomers have finished flowering, and most deciduous plants have not yet begun blooming. However, careful selection yields some early-blooming varieties of shrubs and trees that will fill the blank time in early spring with colorful blooms and fragrance. Butterflies Magnolia has cheerful yellow blooms on bare branches in early spring, while Seta Rhododendron coincides with the early spring cherry blossoms each year.
Seta Rhododendron (Rhododendron "Seta") is one of the first rhododendrons to bloom in spring, often coinciding in early February with the flowering cherries that share its pink flower color. It is an evergreen shrub that reaches 4- to 5-feet tall and has smaller leaves than most rhododendrons.
The flowers on Seta Rhododendron are bell shaped and are pink with white insides. This plant prefers full sun on the coast, part shade elsewhere, and it grows well in USDA Zones 8 to 10.
Variegated Carmel Creeper
Variegated Carmel Creeper (Ceanothus griseus horizontalis "Diamond Heights") is a low-growing early spring bloomer that has clusters of puffy blue flowers in February or March. This ground-covering shrub has bright golden variegation and stands out gorgeously in the front of a garden bed or creeping over a wall.
Variegated Carmel Creeper grows well in USDA Zones 8 to 10, is evergreen, and reaches 1 foot tall and 4 to 5 feet wide. It blooms best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade.
Butterflies Magnolia (Magnolia x "Butterflies") is a small tree with a pyramidal shape that reaches 16 feet tall and 11 feet wide. It has a rich canary yellow flower color and has large 3- to 4-inch flowers that are upright and cupped. It blooms on bare stems in early spring.
Butterflies Magnolia requires full sun and needs regular water to get established, but once it is established it can get by on minimal supplemental water. It thrives in USDA Zones 4 to 9.
King Edward VII Flowering Currant
King Edward VII Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum "King Edward VII") blooms bright reddish-pink in January or February. It is a Pacific Northwest nativar (a native cultivar) which grows in USDA Zones 6 to 10, and it prefers partial to full sun.
The drooping red flower clusters are nectar-rich and attract hummingbirds. There is also a white variety which blooms just as early, called White Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum "Alba.")
Allspice Michelia (Michelia x foggii "Allspice") is a fragrant magnolia relative with deep green evergreen foliage. It begins blooming in early spring and has fuzzy brown buds that open to creamy white flowers.
Allspice Michelia is a slow-growing plant that prefers partial to full sun, and it grows in a narrow pyramidal habit to 18 feet tall and 6- to 8-feet wide. It thrives in USDA Zones 10 to 11, but can be grown in colder zones if sited under trees where it will be protected from frost.