Jumpstart Your Spring Garden By Planting These Colorful Blooming Perennials

published Mar 14, 2020
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Garden with with grasses and various perennial flowers
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Spring can’t get here soon enough. And while you might be busy thinking about spring cleaning and creating a cleaning schedule, there’s one other thing to consider: Is your garden ready? Whether you are mapping out your landscape from scratch or just customizing some colorful window boxes for your apartment, it’s time to start thinking about your flowers to plant in spring. Want flowers that you can plant once and keep enjoying year after year? Then it’s time to start thinking about your perennials to plant in spring. If you map out your garden just right, as one perennial starts to fade, another will begin to bloom, leaving you with a colorful burst of bloom all season long.

What are re-blooming perennials?

Re-blooming perennials are the gifts that keep on giving. Once you plant a perennial flower (given that it doesn’t freeze over that year), it will keep coming back and offering up its blooms year after year. Annual flowers need to be replanted each year (hence the annual). While perennials tend to have a shorter blooming period (some bloom for just a day or a week), annuals are known for holding their blooms longer; some—like zinnias or petunias—hold their blooms all summer long.

When does early spring start?

The start date of early spring depends on the zone where you live. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone is a map that breaks down areas by temperature. It’s based on the average minimum winter temperature of the area and there is a 10 degree F difference for each zone. If you’re an avid gardener, you most likely know your zone, but if you’re not, you can enter your zip code in the top left corner of the website and it will tell you. For example, Atlanta is in Zone 8a. Los Angeles is in Zone 10b. The higher the zone number, the warmer the average minimum temperature.

Once you know your zone, you can find the last frost date for that particular area. The last frost date is usually when the last light freeze hits the area (29-32 degree F). Perennials that are frost tolerant can be planted 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost date for an immediate spring bloom.

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How do I know when it’s OK to plant?

You’ll want to plant at the end of March or beginning of April, depending on when your last frost is set to hit and what your current weather conditions are. However, many gardeners—no matter what their zone—go by the “Mother’s Day Rule.” Since Mother’s Day falls on the second Sunday in May, it’s usually safe to plant your garden then, since most areas will be fully out of frost season.

Once you start working the soil and the ground isn’t frozen, you should be able to plant successfully. Make sure to pay attention to how deep to plant each bulb (this can also vary according to your zone). Many perennials do better when planted in the fall so that they have time to take root in order to produce an early spring bloom, but if you’re planting in March and the weather isn’t on your side, the worst case scenario is you get a little later bloom or you have to plant again. Another way to help along an earlier bloom is to transplant after your last frost date.

Which flowers can I plant now for spring blooms?

Nodding Pink Onion (Allium cernuum): This variety of Allium is native to many parts of the US and grows well in Zones 3-10. It requires medium to low moisture, full to part sun, and can withstand the cold. It reaches a height of 10 to 12 inches and resembles a firework in the way its pale pink flowers hang from the center point.

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Snowdrop Anemone (Anemone sylvestris): These adorable flowers have a yellow center and white petals, and are known for being easy to grow in zones 4 through 8. They can handle medium to high moisture, and full to part sun, as well as a little shade, and grow up to 12 to 18 inches in height.

Tiny Rubies (Dianthus gratianopolitanus): While some Dianthus are annual, this perennial variety is great for zones 3 through 9, and only reaches about 2 to 5 inches in height. It needs full sun and low to medium moisture. Cutting back these tiny pink flowers after bloom helps promote re-bloom.

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Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata): A Bearded Iris is an easy pick for an early spring bloom, but the Dwarf Crested Iris is a different take on the classic flower. Perfect for zones 4 through 8, and requiring part sun to shade and any amount of moisture, this easy-to-care-for plant bursts periwinkle flowers on short stems at a height of 6 to 10 inches.

True Geranium: There are many varieties of Geranium, some perennial and some annual (although the annual ones are actually called Pelargoniums). True geraniums are perennial plants that thrive in zones 3 through 9 and reach anywhere from 6 to 24 inches in height. These beautiful, dainty flowers are easy to grow and prefer full to part sun, and low to medium moisture. Here are more reasons to grow geraniums if an early colorful bloom isn’t reason enough.

Hellebore: Depending on your zone and variety, hellebore can bloom as early as December (making them the “Christmas Rose”) and can hold their blooms for a month, making these a great choice for early spring blooms. These white, pink or purple flowers do well in zones 4 through 9 with part sun to shade and moist soil. They can reach up to 18 inches with an 18 inch spread, as well.

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Hyacinth: Hyacinth have always been well-praised for their early spring blooms. Happy in zones 4 through 8, they prefer full sun, but can tolerate partial sun, and will grow to 8 to 10 inches tall. Their first bloom is usually the most impressive, so lower your expectations for your second year bloom, as it won’t be as showy.

Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas): This variety of purple lavender can bloom in May, again in June, and again in late summer in zones 5 through 9, so you can dry out your first blooms and use them for traveling or make your own lavender laundry detergent while still enjoying more lavender throughout the season. It prefers full sun, medium to low moisture, and usually reaches 20 to 24 inches in height. Need a little more lavender inspiration to get you going? Here are more tips on growing lavender.

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Peony (Paeonia ‘Golden Glow’ Peony): There are a few varieties of peonies that are great early spring bloomers, but this one is a showstopper with its hot pink petals and golden center. Known for doing well in zones 3 through 8, peonies need full to part sun and can grow to about 26 inches in height. They tend to bloom for about 7 to 10 days.

Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’): These fragrant, lavender blue flowers are great spring bloomers. They do well in zones 4 through 8, and can reach up to 14 inches in height. They prefer part sun or shade and medium moisture. 

Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis): While there are several different types of buttercups, this one is known for its early spring bloom in zones 3 to 7. Since it originated as a wildflower, it can grow in most sun conditions and handle low moisture conditions, and is usually between 6 to 12 inches in height.

Which flowers can I plant now for summer blooms?

You can count on these perennials for early summer to fall blooms, so you’ll have color in your garden until the first frost hits.

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Butterfly Milkweed/Monarch Flower (Asclepias tuberosa): These beautiful clusters of orange flowers are known for their ability to attract butterflies. They thrive in zones 3 through 9 and bloom from early summer to late summer. They can reach about 18 to 24 inches high, require medium to low moisture and full sun.

Coneflower (Echinacea): There are many different varieties of Echinacea ranging in color from white to yellow to orange to pink to red. They typically bloom from midsummer into fall in zones 4 through 9. They can reach 15 to 18 inches and do well with full to part sun and low to medium moisture.

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Dahlias: These midsummer bloomers come in a variety of colors (orange, pink, purple, yellow, white, red) and produce a full, voluptuous flower. Dahlias prefer full sun and medium moisture. In zones 8 through 11, they are winter hardy, but zones 2 through 7 can plant them after the last frost date and still enjoy them in the summer.

Snowball Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’): This popular white hydrangea will bloom from early summer to late summer in zones 3 through 9. This shrub produces blooms that range from 6 to 12 inches across. It does well with full to part sun and medium to high moisture. Once you cut the bloom, it won’t come back that season, so make the most of it by drying your hydrangea.

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Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’): These bright golden flowers are a classic perennial for gardens in zones 3 through 9. They bloom from midsummer into early fall and thrive in full sun and medium moisture, reaching heights of 24 to 36 inches.

What other plants flower in spring?

You’ll need to plant these annuals again next year, but their showy colors make the effort worth it.

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Marigold (Calendula): Marigolds are bright yellow annual flowers that can grow in zones 2 through 11, making them super versatile. They prefer sun to part shade, medium moisture, and can be anywhere from 8 to 24 inches tall.

Flowering Kale: Flowering Kale is a great annual to add to your garden to change things up a bit. It prefers full to partial sun, medium moisture and works well in zones 2 through 11. While it is edible, it’s not advised to throw in a salad.

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Pansy: Pansies prefer full to partial sun and grow to be about 6 to 8 inches tall. Also a great annual for zones 2 through 11, they come in a variety of colors (blue, purple, red, orange, pink, and white).

Petunia: This annual flower comes in pink, purple, yellow and other hybrids—our favorite being the Night Sky petunia. It doesn’t like the full summer heat, so it’s a great choice for a spring bloom. It does, however, want full sun, medium moisture and can grow anywhere from 6 to 24 inches.

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Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus): Thriving in zones 7 through 10, snapdragons look like colorful little bells that come in red, white, orange, pink and yellow varieties, with some growing up to 48 inches tall. They do well in full to partial sun with medium moisture.