Today, I live in a locale that receives sun, warmth and plant growth-friendly conditions for a majority of the year (Zone 10, if you’re curious).
But time was, I lived in Zone 5 – barely (5a, to be specific). And while that meant amazing, beautiful seasons, it also meant waiting what felt like forever for flowers and general greenery to poke through winter’s chill.
But there were a few exceptions. Most notable were tiny late-winter flowers that always seemed to come through just when we needed them most: at the end of a long, cold, slip-slidy winter. As a child I remember running squealing to my mother in the heated kitchen to announce the first crocuses which, true to crocus form, poked out of the whiteness of a recent snowfall. “Spring is coming,” Mom acknowledged, smiling, and I was warmed through despite the temperature outside.
You can have that feeling earlier than you think if you know what to plant. Here are five wonderful “early starters” to plan for next year, or to admire whenever you come across them.
Dwarf Crested Iris
Irises of all types are beautiful. These “babies” are just 6-8” tall and poke their bearded faces above the snow in enchanting shades of purple and blue, with yellow and white markings.
Give them moist soil that drains well (these plants generally like woods, so try to replicate wooded soil conditions).
They’ll do fine in either full sun or partial shade, but if you keep them in a sunny locale, make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. They’ll propagate quickly and prolifically; divide them and keep some in pots, or plant a border of them.
Even northern climates can expect these to pop up some time in March. They’ll survive some degree of frost, but they need protection from strong winds and extremes of cold that may return, so plant in a sheltered area if possible, or create a shelter over them until they’re a bit more mature.
These are hibernators, so plant them 5” deep into the soil. Plant 6” apart; they don’t typically overcrowd as they grow. However, given time, they will spread and will continue to come back each year.
These are a bit different from the hyacinths you’re used to seeing in Easter displays at stores. They’re smaller, for one thing – about 6-8” in height at maturity. And the tops are a bit less full, with a “hanging bead” look that’s charming and sweet for early spring.
One thing to watch for: grape hyacinth spreads FAST, and can be invasive. It’s a good idea to keep their planting in contained areas, where you can control the spread for the look you want without them taking over your garden.
With that said, these little beauties are a wonderful spring welcome. Plant in the autumn in groups of up to 10 and watch them arrive early in the spring season.
You knew we’d include these, didn’t you? While most of these suggestions can live through chilly snaps and will bloom a bit earlier with a warmer than usual season, snowdrops have the unique distinction in our list of NOT liking warm winters. That means the chillier zones are in luck with this early spring favorite.
Snowdrops look like their name: pretty little drops of pure white to rich ivory. The bulbs are small and don’t like dryness, so buy them “wet” in late fall and plant as soon as you can. Give them partial shade.
Snowdrop bonus: they are deer-resistant. They also repel small pests, such as mice and chipmunks.
Hellebore (Lenten Rose)
These aren’t actually roses; they’re a perennial that get their name from an appearance somewhere around the Lent (the 40 leading up to Easter) season. They need a good amount of shade – partial to full – which means they’ll add some lovely color to darker areas of your garden.
Lenten rose has the added benefit of having very pretty foliage, so once the blooms are gone later in the season, they’ll still add rich, decorative greenery.
It’s never too early to start thinking about spring – or about plans for fall planting so next year and every year after will be gorgeous, blooming, and bright.
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