Early Spring Bloomers
It’s happening! The snow banks are melting, your green thumb is itching, and was that a robin you just heard? Yes, all signs are pointing to that oh-so glorious word SPRING! But, as all Canadians are painfully aware, this magical thaw won’t reach its peak overnight, so we’ll all have to be patient as we wait for Mother Nature to get all the cold nights and late frosts out of her system. We’ve done it before, we can do it again; luckily, we don’t have to wait too long before getting our dose of colour.
Most annuals, and newly planted perennials, cannot handle any kind of frost. Let’s say that again: Most Annuals and Newly Planted Perennials CANNOT Handle Any Kind of Frost! Seriously, we can’t stress this point enough, and this is why there’s an entire paragraph about how they can’t handle frost. Good? Great, let’s move on.
Yes, the danger of frost is a scary one for most annuals and newly planted perennials. But there are ways for us to get some healthy spring colour without waiting for Mother Nature to get her act together. Just remember that the list below includes established perennials, meaning that they’ve grown their roots deep enough to handle our natural Canadian seasons. Until then, they’ll need to be watered deeply and consistently – at least a year, if not two – before they can be considered established.
Pansies: This Annual is actually a cousin of the perennial Viola! It has a large flower or ‘face’ that’s available in a rainbow of colours and combinations. They can go outside in planters or the garden as soon as it’s warm enough to dig a hole, so it’s a great way to get some early spring colour while you wait for the summer annuals to arrive. They can even handle light frosts with just a bit of petal or leaf damage, and they’ll easily grow out of that in a week or so. Treat as an Annual, as they are often spent by summer, though they have been known to bloom a second year.
Viola: You really can’t go wrong with a classic. This perennial cousin of the Annual Pansy features a smaller bloom with similar shades of colours and combinations, sometimes with even more pronounced markings! This tough early spring Perennial can easily handle light frosts, usually with minimal petal or leaf damage that it quickly outgrows. Plant them outside in full to partial sun as soon as the ground warms up in mid- to late April. Tip: If you shear the plant after its spring blooming season, they might even reward you with a second show in the fall!
Primrose (Primula): Another favourite which has been filling gardens and hearts for generations! They continue the trend of being able to withstand those pesky spring frosts, with just some petal and leaf damage as their battle scars (which they’ll grow out of in a few weeks). They offer a rainbow of colour in both planters and garden beds, and since they prefer a semi-shady moist location they’ll bring even more bright and cheery hues to blast the winter grey away!
Hellebore (Helleborus): This is a shady perennial that could quickly become an obsession, especially if you’ve got a shady garden. Also known as Lenten Rose, they are renowned for poking their heads through snow banks! Just imagine, staring out your window at a frozen landscape and then, bam! Nodding heads of pink, burgundy, white, or even apple green appearing from under the snow! Just don’t move them once they’re in the ground; they like to stay put once they put their roots down, and if you disturb them they could hold a grudge against you for years.
Bugloss (Brunnera): A must for any shade lover. The distinct heart-shaped foliage is typically minty green with silver overlay and heavy silvery veins which, along with its coarse texture and near-true blue flowers, make this a true shady showstopper! It loves moist soil but does very well in average conditions, so long as it’s protected from the afternoon sun, so it’s perfect for woodland gardens.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria): Keeping to the shady side of the garden, this low growing beauty offers big impact in a small package. Its coarse silvery-green leaves can be solid or speckled with bright silver, and its delicate bell-shaped flowers range from pink to purple to near-blue, sometimes with all three sharing the same petals! Use it to add texture and intrigue to shady borders and walkways.
Bleeding Heart (Dicentra): Who doesn’t recognize this shady classic? Dangling from delicate stems, the unique heart-shaped flowers come in red, pink, white, or bicolour combinations that really pop against the lush foliage. The branches are great for cutting, which means you can enjoy them in both the garden and fresh flower arrangements. Planting it in rich, moist soil and offering protection from the afternoon sun will give you a spring performance you won’t soon forget!
English Daisy (Bellis): So cute! These low growing, easy care, sun-loving bloomers have plump button-like flower heads of pink, red, or white, often with a bright yellow eye that contrasts beautifully with their bright green foliage and narrow stems. While they’re a favourite for sunny borders and walkways, they’re a short-lived perennial and it’s best to treat them as such; letting them go to seed will help to promote their future generations.
Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla): Delicate and adorable must be a trend for spring flowers! Soft, silver-green foliage is a perfect backdrop for the drooping bell-shaped blooms in shades of purple, red, or blush white. Leave their fluffy seed heads to add even more interest and texture. Letting them self-seed and naturalize will ensure they will impress in your sunny borders, walkways, and rock gardens for years to come.
Moss/Creeping Phox (Phlox subulata): We left this one until last because it’s the one that everyone wants! The tiny flowers in shades of pinks, purples, whites, and even lavender blue completely smother the green foliage underneath like a thick carpet. When we say “showstopper” we are talking about Moss Phlox – it will literally stop your neighbours in their tracks as they pass by your sunny borders! Bonus: it’s a favourite for pollinators!