Horticulture Magazine

20 Early-Spring Flowering Plants

pink primrose flowers

After a long dark winter, nothing brings more joy than the arrival of early spring flowers.

From bulbs to perennials and shrubs, there are many plants that start to flower just as spring begins.

Here in the UK, there is an early spring flowering plant for every garden.

However, plants have differing growing requirements and need to be situated where they will thrive, so it is important to consider where they will grow well to get the best from them.

This guide will cover what plants flower in early spring and where they are best situated, to help you bring joy and hope to your garden as winter ends.

Early Spring Flowering Shrubs

It is often said that shrubs provide the backbone of our gardens, supplying the all-important height and structure.

These shrubs will not only help provide this structure – but flower as the garden awakens in spring – bringing colour and scent with them:

1) Sweet Box

flowers of a sweet box shrub
  • BOTANICAL NAME: SARCOCOCCA
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; FULL OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: DECEMBER – MARCH

Sarcococca, or ‘sweet box’ as it is often known, is a shrub that is thought to originate from China from and is a part of the Buxaceae family. A shade-loving and evergreen plant, it is a great shrub for a tricky spot.

Producing heavenly scented white flowers from late winter through to early spring, Sarcococca confusa is a great variety.

Growing to H2.5m x W1.5m it is perfect for the back of a border or a large container. The scent the flowers give off is incredible and it is best planted near a spot often walked past so they can be enjoyed, a shaded back door or porch is ideal.

Requiring full or part shade and a sheltered site, they will grow in most moist and well-drained soils, but need protection from the harshest midday sun.

Sarcococca confusa is a low maintenance shrub requiring minimal pruning only to keep to size and shape, which can be carried out in early spring after flowering.

2) Forsythia

Yellow Forsythia blooms
  • BOTANICAL NAME: FORSYTHIA
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; FULL SUN OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: FEBRUARY – APRIL

Forsythia originally came from Asia and is now commonplace here in the UK and for good reason.

An easy to grow shrub, it produces an abundance of yellow flowers in early spring, often in time for Easter, depending when it falls.

A bright and vibrant shrub, it injects a great dose of colour and is often used in Easter floral displays.

Forsythias are relatively unfussy and will tolerate most soils, as long as they are moist and well-drained.

A hardy shrub, they can tolerate winter temperatures down to -15°C and will grow in either an exposed or sheltered site.

Often large standalone shrubs, although recent introductions include some dwarf varieties, they can also be grown up a wall with training.

For a large shrub, forsythia × intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’ is a good choice growing to H2.5 x W2.5 over time.

With an upright habit, its yellow ovate flowers begin to bloom in March as spring dawns.

3) Quince

red Chaenomeles flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: CHAENOMELES
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; FULL SUN OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – MAY

Chaenomeles or ‘Japanese quince’ as it is commonly known, is a lovely shrub which flowers from March to May.

Originating from Asia, they are available here with flower colours ranging from white and apricot to bright red.

From the Rosaceae family, they are deciduous with their stems covered in thorns, which need care when handling.

Producing small 5 petalled flowers in March and April, they are a valuable early source of nectar for pollinators.

Being able to withstand temperatures down to -15°C they are reliably hardy and able to survive all but the harshest UK winter.

Chaenomeles × superba ‘Pink Lady’ is a great example, with soft pink flowers on a small frame it will grow to only H1.5 x W1.5m and tolerate any soil.

As with most chaenomeles, it is best grown in a sheltered spot in full sun or part shade.

4) Goat Willow

flowering salix caprea in springtime
  • BOTANICAL NAME: SALIX CAPREA
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – APRIL

Goat Willow – also commonly known as ‘Pussy Willow’ or ‘Great Sallow’ – is commonly grown as a tree or shrub in the UK.

It is well-known for its distinctive catkins and is a great option for low-maintenance gardens as it needs very little upkeep.

5) Alpine Heath

erica carnea with bright pink flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: ERICA CARNEA
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; FULL SUN OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: JANUARY – APRIL

Winter flowering heather is great for bringing a splash of colour to the garden in winter and early-spring months, when little else is in flower.

Its distinctive pink blooms show on upright, needle-like foliage that is evergreen in our climate.

It is tolerant of most conditions which makes it a great option for any garden.

6) Hybrid Camellia

pink flowers of Camellia × williamsii shrub
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Camellia × williamsii
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; FULL OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: JANUARY – MARCH

Camellia x williamsii was the first Camellia hybrid, cultivated in 1923 by J.C. Williams in Cornwall. [source]

This crossing of Camellia saluenensis with Camellia japonica yields large pink flowers in late winter and early spring.

They are incredibly tough and grow well in shade – making them ideal for a secluded corner of your garden.

Early Spring Flowering Bulbs

Bulbs can give a stunning succession of early colour and brighten up the garden whether in pots or the borders.

From winter aconites and snowdrops early on, to daffodils and tulips flowering later in spring, they can provide colour for months on end.

7) Snowdrop

white drooping flowers of Galanthus
  • BOTANICAL NAME: GALANTHUS
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: JANUARY – MARCH

Galanthus or ‘snowdrops’ are such a welcome sight in any garden and indicate that spring in imminent.

Often flowering in February and March they look stunning when planted in clumps or in drifts creating a white carpet.

There is a huge range of snowdrops available with some varieties being sold for eye-watering prices. But don’t let this put you off.

The common snowdrop or galanthus nivalis grows to H15cm and is widely available and not expensive.

Snowdrops are perennial and grow well in moist well-drained soil in part or dappled shade.

Snowdrop bulbs are best planted ‘in the green’, essentially meaning that their foliage is still green and not turned yellow yet, in spring.

The bulbs can be planted in autumn, but are less reliable to establish.

They require little maintenance, and only need their foliage to be allowed to die back naturally to feed the bulb for the following year and larger clumps divided every few years.

8) Early Bulbous Iris

blue and yellow Iris reticulata flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: IRIS RETICULATA
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: FEBRUARY – MARCH

For an early spring display of blue, purple and yellow, the dwarf Iris reticulata is hard to beat.

Growing to only H15cm its colour certainly makes up for its short stature.

A part of the iridaceae family, iris reticulata is a bulbous perennial that blooms in March.

Perfectly suited to the front of a border or a terracotta pot, they are best grown in free-draining soil in full sun, or part shade.

Widely available, they can be planted at twice their own depth in autumn to flower the following spring.

Over time bulbs will multiply sometimes leading to overcrowding and poor blooms.

This can be addressed by dividing the clumps in late summer and replanting.

9) Early Crocuses

early purple crocus flowers with orange stamen
  • BOTANICAL NAME: CROCUS TOMMASINIANUS
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: FEBRUARY – APRIL

Crocus is a plant that is probably most well-known for being an early bloomer in the British Isles.

Crocus tommasinianus is the variety commonly grown for early spring flowers and its bulbs should be planted in autumn – usually between late September and early November.

Plant in well-drained soil and full sun for the best results.

10) Hyacinth

hyacinth in white and purple - part of a garden border
  • BOTANICAL NAME: HYACINTHUS
  • HARDINESS RATING: H4
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; FULL SUN OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: APRIL – MAY

Available in a range of colours, hyacinth are one of the most popular types of bulbs to grow thanks to their attractive blooms and pleasant fragrance.

In the autumn months, plant the bulbs at a depth of roughly 10cm and water well.

Hyacinth prefer a sheltered spot (ideally in full sun) and soil that drains well.

11) Daffodil

yellow flowering daffodil plants
  • BOTANICAL NAME: NARCISSUS
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; FULL SUN OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: FEBRUARY – MARCH

Another plant that needs no introduction, daffodils are commonly listed amongst the most popular flowers grown in the United Kingdom. [source]

Their nodding, showy flowers tend to signal the onset of spring from February or March.

They are fairly tolerant of most weather conditions and should be planted in September.

Plant between a depth of 12-15cm in well-draining soil.

12) Winter Aconite

yellow winter aconite in frost
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Eranthis hyemalis
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; FULL SUN OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: JANUARY – FEBRUARY

Winter aconite is a member of the buttercup family and is native to woodland habitats.

Its bright yellow flowers usually unfurl in late winter, with blooms even earlier than crocuses.

Once settled, the plant should come back each year and you will also find that it spreads easily.

Its soil should be kept moist and the plant will need regular exposure to sunshine in order to flower.

13) Alpine Cyclamen

red flowering cyclamen
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Cyclamen Alpinum
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: JANUARY – FEBRUARY

Alpine Cyclamen is native to altitudinal areas of Central Europe, with pretty flowers that show in late winter and early springtime.

The angular, propellor-like flowers are very distinctive and offer something a little different for any sheltered, partly shaded areas of the garden.

14) Wild Tulip

yellow wild tulips in an alpine garden
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Tulipa sylvestris
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: APRIL – MAY

Wild tulip bears bright yellow flowers which are have a lemon, citrusy scent. [source]

It can commonly be found growing wild in its native environment of woodland or meadows, and should be placed in a sunny spot with plenty of shelter.

15) Starflower

white Ipheion Uniflorum flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Ipheion
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – MAY

Ipheion or ‘Starflowers’ are flowering bulbs that are native to South America.

They have sweet-scented flowers that are commonly blue or white and usually begin flowering from March here in the UK.

Use a loam-based compost and site in full sun for the best results.

Early Spring Flowering Perennials

16) Hellebore

Hellebore flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: HELLEBORES
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; FULL SUN OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: JANUARY – MARCH

Hellebores are part of the ranunculaceae family with some of the most widely grown varieties including helleborus foetidus, helleborus niger and helleborus x hybridus.

With flowers ranging in colour from white and cream to pink and purple, there is a colour to suit any garden scheme.

Helleborus x hybridus or the Lenten rose is a semi-evergreen perennial and is arguably one of the easiest to grow.

Flowering from February and March onwards, they are happiest in moist well-drained soil in part shade.

Care must be taken when handling and with children and pets around as they are considered toxic.

With single or double flowers and growing to H.45 x W.45m, they do not like being transplanted and often happily self-seed, producing new plants which can be moved.

For stunning pink and red speckled petals, Helleborus × hybridus Harvington pink speckled is a wonderful plant to brighten up the garden.

17) Primrose

white and yellow primrose blooms
  • BOTANICAL NAME: PRIMULA
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; FULL SUN OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: JANUARY – MAY

Perhaps one of the most thought of spring flowers, especially in the wild, is the primrose or primula vulgaris.

A very hardy perennial, withstanding even the harshest winter.

With the true wild form being a scented and pale yellow growing to H20cm, it flowers from late February until May and is found in hedgerows and woodlands throughout the UK.

Thriving in most conditions, they are ideal for lining a path or filling a container to provide a cheering display.

Despite their common name primrose, they are part of the primulaceae family and are herbaceous or semi-evergreen.

As an RHS plant for pollinators, primula vulgaris will provide a valuable source of nectar for bees.

If left alone, primula vulgaris will self-seed and naturalise in the vicinity or can be divided up every 2-3 years in early autumn and replanted.

18) Bleeding Hearts

Lamprocapnos spectabilis
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Lamprocapnos spectabilis
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – JUNE

Lamprocapnos spectabilis or as it was previously named Dicentra spectablilis, is much more commonly known as ‘bleeding heart’.

From the papaveraceae family, lamprocapnos are herbaceous perennials that are adorned with pink, red or white heart-shaped flowers dangling down from arching stems.

With flowers appearing from March until June, they are a great early spring plant to add colour to the garden.

Requiring a sheltered spot in partial shade, they grow well in most fertile soils, except acidic.

A hardy perennial, originating from China, they will tolerate winter temperatures down to around -15°C and grow to typically H1m x W1m.

Lamprocapnos do not like being transplanted and being toxic they must be handled with care and when children and pets are present.

For a vibrant red display of flowers Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine’ is incredible.

Growing to H.8m x W.8m its scarlet red flowers with white tips will brighten up any border or container.

19) Winter Pansies

pansies in bloom with colours of purple, white and yellow
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Viola hiemalis
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • BEST SITED: EXPOSED OR SHELTERED; FULL SUN OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: DEPENDENT ON PLANTING

Winter pansies are incredibly hardy and can flower even in the darkest winter months when there is little sun.

Rated H7, they incredibly hardy plants that can survive frosts, snow and pretty much anything a typical British winter could throw at them.

Planting them in autumn (ideally September) should give them enough time to bed in before the harsh winter period, when they should flower all the way until spring.

20) Lily of the Valley

white flowering lily of the valley
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Convallaria majalis
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • BEST SITED: SHELTERED; FULL OR PART SHADE
  • FLOWERING MONTHS: MARCH – APRIL

Lily of the Valley is a woodland flowering, herbaceous perennial that is ideal as a groundcover plant.

Its small white flowers with their bell-shaped appearance should appear in March or April for a springtime garden treat.

They can be grown in almost any soil type and do well in dappled shade – perhaps under the canopy of a tree or in a shaded garden corner.

The rooted crowns of the plant should be planted out when weather conditions are dry and moderate – spring or early autumn are both ideal months.

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