When the cold, dreary winter is finally over, most people cannot wait to see the colors of springtime flowers. Countless flowering shrubs are at their best throughout the summer months, but a select few bloom in early spring. If you don’t want to wait until June to see the first flowers on your shrubs, plant some of the early-spring bloomers that will make the warm springtime temperatures that much sweeter.
Hardy rhododendron shrubs are early-spring bloomers that produce large, purplish-pink blossoms and have evergreen leaves. Growing and blooming in full sun or partial shade, these low-maintenance shrubs have flower buds that can over-winter in temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Rhododendrons grow the following year’s flower buds in late spring or early summer, right after they’re finished blooming. Rhododendrons typically grow 6 feet tall and nearly as wide.
Lilac bushes are the staple of spring bloomers, erupting in a profusion of tall purple flower clusters in early to mid-spring. Heavily fragrant and supremely hardy, lilacs are early-spring-flowering shrubs that can grow in a wide range of climates. The common lilac shrub (Syringa vulgaris) reaches a height and width of 8 to 10 feet, and can endure severely cold winters, withstanding temperatures down to -30 to -35 degrees.
Forsythia shrubs bloom as early as March or April in yellow or white flowers, depending on the variety. Although their cold hardiness can vary between cultivars, forsythias bloom during spring and provide dark-green, attractive foliage throughout the summer, turning pale yellow to purplish in fall. Most forsythia shrubs reach 10 feet tall or smaller. Many hardy forsythia shrubs can grow in USDA Hardiness Zones as low as Zone 3, withstanding winter temperatures as low as -35 degrees.
Vernal Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)
One of the first flowering shrubs to bloom in late winter and early spring, vernal witch hazel produces yellow to reddish flowers with reddish-purple foliage. The leaves turn green in summer and then yellow in autumn. The blossoms will close up during colder early-spring days, opening up during warmer springtime temperatures. About the same size as the common lilac bush, vernal witch hazel can grow in cold-winter regions as cold as USDA Hardiness Zone 5, where temperatures get as low as -15 degrees.
Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)
In early spring, the star magnolia shrub’s white, 3- to 4-inch-wide flowers begin blooming, emitting a fragrant scent. Star magnolias are hardy down to USDA Zone 4, where winter temperatures can dip down to -25 degrees. The only drawback to star magnolia shrubs is that their flowers are easily damaged by spring frosts and will turn brown rapidly. The star magnolia can grow up to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide.
Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa) and Purple Leaf Sandcherry (P. cistena)
Hardy down to USDA Zone 3, the Nanking cherry shrub produces white to pale-pink flowers in early spring, followed by edible fruits in early summer. The purple leaf sandcherry also blooms in early spring, producing fragrant, light-pink blossoms with attractive, purple foliage. The purple leaf sandcherry is hardy down to Zone 4. The purple leaf sandcherry usually grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, while the Nanking cherry reaches a height of 8 to 10 feet and width of up to 15 feet.
Early-flowering Viburnums not only offer rounded clusters of lovely flowers, but they also add an intense springtime fragrance. Early-spring bloomers include the species Viburnum burkwoodii, V. carlesii and V. judii. Most Viburnums can grow in USDA Hardiness Zone 4.