These 7 Plants & Bushes Could Fool You in Listing Photos — Here’s Why

published Aug 2, 2023
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Spring blooming azalea and red tip photinia in residential neighborhood front yard.
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Who among us hasn’t been duped by a gorgeous listing on Zillow? It’s literally real estate agents’ job to tempt people into visiting their listing — even if a little bit of false advertising is involved. 

“Remember that plants are constantly changing, so what you see today likely isn’t what it’ll look like in a month or two,” advises Ryan McEnaney, a fifth-generation plantsman, garden designer, and author of Field Guide to Outside Style. Ahead, find some of his favorites to keep an eye out for — and to appreciate while you can, as their bloom periods are relatively short.


You’ve probably seen azalea bushes while watching The Masters golf tournament. It’s a classic, early-blooming shrub that erupts in all kinds of colors in climates across the country. “There are evergreen varieties in warmer climates and selections that lose their leaves in cooler climates, but still bring early-season color to the landscape,” explains McEnaney. “Once they bloom, they have gorgeous green foliage to set a backdrop to the garden, but most will not rebloom.” That means they’ll look lovely in springtime, but the flowers won’t be visible later in the year. The only exception, McEnaney says, is the Encore Azalea variety found in warmer climates.

Lotus Moon Pearlbush

This is one of McEnaney’s favorite early bloomers for cool climates. “As the rest of the garden starts waking up, the plant is absolutely covered in pearl-like strings of flower buds that explode into bright white,” he says. Although the blooms only last a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to enjoy its foliage all summer and throughout the fall.

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Forsythia are an early sign of spring, defined by their yellow flowers early in the season. According to McEnaney, “You’ll see these striking flowers emerge as early as February and they will brighten up a cool-climate landscape in April.”

Crabapple Trees

Crabapple trees, like cherry blossom trees, are covered in flowers early in the season before the leaves start to appear, then drop the petals as soon as they emerge. It’s no wonder, McEnaney quips, why one of the most common crabapple trees is called Spring Snow: “The white petals cover the ground under the tree in late spring as the flowers fade.” Translation? Know that the beauty of crabapple trees is short-lived if you happen to spot one in the front yard of a home for sale.

Credit: Oleg Kopyov / Shutterstock


Fragrant, colorful lilacs are one of the hallmarks of spring, and they’re a nostalgic scent for many. “While beautiful, the blooms don’t last long as the days heat up and the flowers begin to fade,” McEnaney warns. He does have a tip, though: While they last, cut those blooms and bring them inside for the most delightful (free) room freshener.


They may look like hydrangeas, but they actually bloom early in the season. “Some viburnums are commonly called snowball viburnum because their flowers look like, you guessed it, snowballs,” McEnaney shares. The flowers might not last long, but he still loves the corrugated leaves that offer great fall color.


Whether you’re in a warm climate and get to see the iconic Southern Magnolia or in a cooler climate with Star Magnolia, you’re bound to be charmed. “Each species offers more than their blooms, but those showstoppers quickly fade as temperatures rise and give way to other showstoppers in the garden,” says McEnaney.

The trick to avoiding this, he says, is to “layer some multi-season interest to the landscape to keep the aesthetic strong year-round.” He recommends a mix of long-lasting color like coneflower or American Gold Rush Black-Eyed Susan, ornamental grasses, and shrubs that re-bloom all season long like Endless Summer Hydrangea. (Although his favorite is Pop Star Hydrangea because “it blooms and re-blooms so much that you get flowers from early summer through frost.”)