These easy-to-grow perennials and shrubs with early spring flowers are a sight for sore eyes after a long winter and require very little maintenance.
There is something about the plants which bloom early in the spring that make them near and dear to every gardener’s heart.
After looking at brown grass (or lots of snow depending on where you are), the bright colors of these early bloomers mean spring is on its way.
As an added bonus, most of these spring plants are really easy to grow and require very little in maintenance other than some pruning to remove dead leaves or branches. And they are all perennials or bushes, so you only have to plant them once to have years of spring enjoyment.
Keep reading to find my favorite perennials and shrubs for early spring flowers.
Trailing or Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
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Sun or Part Shade
Trailing phlox are very low-growing (4″ – 6″ tall), evergreen, easy to grow plants that spread out over the years. If you are patient, 3 or 4 of these plants can eventually line a 6 foot sidewalk.
They look great growing over garden edging or in a rock garden, and will be completely covered in blooms in the early spring.
There is a limited color selection (purple, pink or white), but you can add some extra interest by combining them with spring bulbs such as daffodils, tulips or irises which look beautiful growing up through the phlox.
Zones: 4 – 9
Sun or Part Shade
Iris Reticulata are bulbs with early spring flowers that only reach about 4″ in height. These are not the tall flag-type irises that bloom later in the spring or early summer.
These Irises are available in a variety of colors but I love the bright blue ones. I grow them through my Candy Stripes phlox and the colors look great together.
Unfortunately, the iris blooms don’t last very long, but they are so bright and beautiful that I have to have them in my spring garden.
Plant the bulbs in the fall to get blooms the next spring.
Zones: 3 – 8
Shade or Part Shade
I’m not sure why I’ve never grown Pulmonaria before, but I haven’t. I bought my first one at a plant sale last year. It was one of those clearance rack sales, they only had one plant, and it didn’t have a variety label. But it had such beautiful variegated leaves, I bought it anyway.
I was actually quite happy with the leaves on their own. However, now it is blooming, and I am extra glad that I got it…the blooms start out as a purple color and then turn pink. So you end up with multi-colored flowers that really stand out against the white leaves.
Now all I have to do is figure out the name of it, and find a couple more of them!
Zones: 3 – 8
Sun or Part Shade
Daffodils are another really easy to grow perennial that are one of the first to bloom in the spring.
Unlike tulips, they grow well even with the warmer winter weather where I live, and the squirrels don’t like them! Which means they actually stay where you plant them.
Plant the bulbs about 6″ deep in the fall and you’ll have beautiful spring flowers for many years to come.
If you are not a huge fan of yellow (I’m with you!), newer varieties come in shades of pink or white.
The leaves can be a little unsightly after the flowers have finished, so planting the bulbs with later blooming plants is a good idea.
Hellebores (Lenten Rose)
Zones: 4 – 9
Part to Full Shade
Hellebores are low-growing, clump-forming, easy to grow plants that start blooming really early in the spring. Even in Canada, their flowers can be seen peeping out from the snow in February.
Once they start blooming, they have the added benefit that the blooms last for quite some time. In my South Carolina garden, the first flowers appear in February and are still going strong in April.
Plus they are very easy to grow…I don’t do anything to them other than cut off the odd dead leaf.
Hellebores have become much more popular lately. This means that there is a wider variety of colors and bloom types available, so you should be able to find one that fits in with your garden.
They are short (about 12″ tall) but do spread out some, and like a shady spot.
The plants can be a little gangly in the summer. Planting them with something that comes out a little later and also likes the shade (like Hostas) will help provide some distraction.
Star Magnolias (Magnolia stellata)
Zones: 4 – 8
Sun to Part Shade
There are many different types of magnolias that grow in many different climates. I think all of them are beautiful but I am particularly fond of the Star Magnolias.
Their early spring flowers come out before their leaves, usually in late February or early March in my Zone 7B South Carolina garden.
They generally have pink or white blooms with several petals that give them a star-like appearance.
Once the leaves do come out, they are pretty, glossy and dark green making a good backdrop for other plants.
These bushes grow to about 8′ wide by 15′ high so make sure to plant them in a location with a little room to grow.
Zones: 7 – 10
Shade to Part Shade
Camellias are another easy-to-grow bush (or small tree if you cut off the lower branches as they grow) with early spring flowers.
They have evergreen, dark green leaves which is an added bonus.
Bloom times can be anytime between the end of October and the beginning of May, depending on the variety.
Camellias require slightly warmer conditions than some of the other plants in this list…but if you live in a zone where they survive, it’s hard not to have at least one in your garden. I have enough varieties in my garden that there is usually at least one blooming all winter long.
It does take them a couple of years to get going after they have been planted, but once established, they are covered in blooms.
Zones: 4 – 8
Sun or part shade
The very first house I owned in Toronto came with a Forsythia bush in the back yard. I had never really paid much attention to them before I moved into that house.
But it’s hard not to fall in love with the yellow flowers that come out on the bush as soon as the snow is melting.
After a winter of gray skies and cold weather, they always reminded me that sunshine and spring were on the way!
Zones: 5 – 10
Shade or part shade
I came home from dinner the other night, opened my car door and immediately knew my Daphne plant was blooming, even though you can’t see it from the front of my house. There was no mistaking that beautiful Daphne fragrance wafting through the front yard.
Sure enough, when I walked around to the side, the plant was covered in blooms. In February!
Having a plant that blooms so early in the spring and smells heavenly is a combination that’s hard to beat!
There you have it…my favorite early blooming spring plants. Hopefully you have found some inspiration to get your own spring gardening going.
Have comments or questions about our list of perennials and shrubs with early spring flowers? Tell us in the section below.
This post was originally published on February 26, 2018 but was updated with new content on September 15, 2022.