My Favorite Spring Flowering Perennials
A landscape or garden that doesn’t incorporate spring flowering plants is basically extending the winter landscape. That might be okay if there is some awesome winter interest but mostly that means a homeowner is choosing to have a “blegh” landscape for an extra 2-3 months. That totals to almost half the year. Don’t miss out!
Below are my favorite spring flowering perennials for our zone. All of these, if their cultural conditions are met, are low maintenance! Don’t let their unfamiliarity intimidate you; they really are a piece of cake. If you have questions, we can help you!
Hellebores (Helleborus x hybrids)
Every garden needs to have a few hellebores! This is the first spring blooming perennial that is widely available in the nursery trade here. The biggest perk is the early spring blooms from March to April. Even after the blooms are done, the colorful sepals remain from April and into May. The foliage is also appealing, so hellebores make a great foliage plant like Hosta and Heuchera. On top of that, it’s semi-evergreen, deer and rabbit resistant, and long-lived.
Hellebores tend to be a little more expensive than the average perennial as it usually takes them 3 to 5 years to flower. Plus, there have been a lot of breeding in recent years for snazzy new cultivars. Make some room in your budget for hellebores this season and go beyond those 2 basic colors you see at the box stores!
Hellebores do best in part-sun to part-shade which makes them very versatile. With so many perks, this low maintenance perennial deserves space in nearly every landscape. Try going for groupings to make a more dramatic statement.
Next time you’re in, check out the hellebores in our display gardens!
Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)
I love this underutilized perennial! This is another early to mid-spring blooming plant. It stays small (under a foot tall) so it works best at the front of a bed where it will be noticed. The lacy foliage emerges in March and blooms unfurl in April. The bell-shaped flowers come in purple and burgundy and the seedheads from the flowers are reminiscent of the seedheads from clematis, which adds additional interest and beauty.
Although it enjoys a lot of sun, Pasque flowers dislike a lot of heat so it’s better suited in a bed bordering the lawn as opposed to the driveway. Light shade is beneficial for this reason. They tend to go dormant later in summer but are long-lived, sometimes living for decades!
If we don’t have them in, be sure to request them on our customer wishlist!
Violas (Viola sp.)
I love violas! This genus contains a lot of species, including pansies, Johnny jump-ups, hybrids, and nearly 20 native species to the Plum and Murrysville area. Those in regular commerce are treated as annuals but some of them will survive the winter as they are very cold hardy (the guy who uses “pansy” as synonymous as “weakling” doesn’t know what he’s talking about!). That said, we bring in specifically perennial violas from time to time.
I find violas very cheery. Their early bloom is a welcome relief from winter and, like hellebore’s blooms, won’t become blemished from average snow and frost. Violas dislike heat so it’s best to plant them in part-sun/part-shade areas. Like Pasque flowers, site them in the front of a bed – or as a container plant!
Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)
Who doesn’t admire the dainty, unique blooms of a bleeding heart? I love the presence an old-fashioned bleeding heart makes in the garden. This shrub-like perennial swiftly grows to 2-3 feet high and wide or so, and flowers in mid-spring, between April and May.
Bleeding hearts dislike heat and usually go dormant in mid-summer (dormant, not dead!). Don’t let its dainty appearance intimidate you – it’s an easy plant for the beginner! Deer don’t care for it and neither do insect pests. And when it piddles in summer, remember it’s just doing its natural thing. A quick 30 second trim of dead foliage once a year sounds like low maintenance to me! All it asks is to have some shade and well-drained soil – no wet areas please!
Pair old-fashioned bleeding hearts with other plants in the garden so the spot isn’t bare when it decides to go dormant. Pairing with plants that tend to wake up later, like some ferns, Joe Pye-Weed and Clethra, is a good idea!
Columbine (Aquilegia sp. )
Columbines seem to like the Goldilocks zone. Too hot and dry and the foliage becomes ragged. Too wet and the plant dwindles in agony. But given a moist but well-drained, half-sun and half-shade location, it will flourish with no care! Because they self-seed respectably, they’ll often form little colonies. This is another petite plant, around 18” tall, for the front of a bed.
Columbines are deer and rabbit resistant, easy to grow, and one species (A. canadensis) is native to our locality. Because the blooms are simply outstanding (blooming April to May) and unlike any other, I highly recommend trying some this year. I know I am!
Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
I don’t see this perennial much in the area but have long been familiar with it as my mom has a couple. This is another underutilized groundcover perennial that requires very little care. All it asks is not being wet, so find a well-drained spot for this plant!
Candytuft has alyssum-like white blooms in April which are pretty rad (if you know me, alyssum is one of my favorite annuals)! The foliage is semi-evergreen depending on how severe the winter is. This perennial is also rabbit and deer resistant, a plus for us in western Pennsylvania. Because it likes drier and warmer spots, and has a degree of salt-tolerance, this is an excellent plant for along walkways or the driveway. Once established, you can pretty much forget about any kind of care except for a yearly trim after flowering to tidy it up.
Have I convinced you yet to try it?
False Indigo (Baptisia australis, sp.)
This native perennial blooms at the tale end of spring, a sure sign that summer is nigh! The blooms on this remind me of a lupine. While lupines are often known for being a little fickle, Baptisia is quite the opposite: drought tolerant, tolerant to periodic flooding, deer-resistant, and long-lived. Matter of fact, Baptisia is a great perennial to use as a foundational plant due to its shrubby habit. While the blooms are short-lived, they make quite the impact when they do bloom. Most people prefer long blooming plants so I do not see Baptisia used too often in the landscape. Consider bucking the trend and trying one in your landscape! Baptisia come in purples, whites, yellows, and pinks, along with bicolored forms.
Others Honorable Mentions
The above listed are my favorites for spring flower and interest. That’s not to say there aren’t other fantastic ones! Three more come to mind, and probably ones you’re familiar with.
Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) is a popular groundcover perennial in our area. It forms a carpet of pink, purple, or white blooms in April and May which are often noticeable from the car. It’s also semi-evergreen and more resistant to leaf-fungal issues than other phlox. This is a great flowering alternative to groundcover Junipers. Like junipers, they hate being too wet so plant accordingly. Slopes are great since they readily drain.
If you have an area of the landscape that is more stubbornly moist, Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a better choice. Sweet Woodruff flowers in April and the dense mat this plant forms makes an attractive groundcover. This plant is shallow rooted so, if ever needed, digging out an unwanted portion is a piece of cake.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria sp.), like Hosta and Heuchera, is both a foliage plant and flowering plant. Small attractive blue, purple, or pink flowers bloom from March to May depending on the cultivated variety and the season. Foliage is green and speckled with light green to grey patches throughout the leaves. This plant is shade happy and deer resistant! Don’t let the name gross you out – “wort” is Latin for plant!
With crabapples in full bloom and dogwoods on the way, spring is in full force! With society’s slower pace, perhaps now is a great time to relish in the gardening spirit. If you are unable or unwilling to come in due to COVID-19, don’t worry! We will still have these perennials in summer even though their blooming will be past. You can also order some over the phone and we can deliver to your house as well. If we don’t have them in stock, we can add you to our customer wish list and try to get them in as soon as we can!
Hope you’re in the mood to garden this spring!
Photos provided by Plumline Nursery employee Aaron Grabiak with Aaron Grabiak Garden Photography & Landscape Design, Proven Winners, and the author.