As January fades into February, I start looking for every sign of spring I can. The slowly lengthening days give me some hope, but it’s the signs from my garden that really help to break the winter blues. Seeing shrubs start to show off for spring is enough to help any gardener power through the final days (or weeks, or months, depending where you live) of the cold season. Happily, there is a host of shrubs that provide early spring color. Here are a dozen favorites.
Gardeners in mild-winter regions get to enjoy the lush opulence camellias offer. There are few finer than ‘Nuccio’s Bella Rossa’. A spectacular hybrid, it’s loved for its extra-large 4-inch-wide flowers, high bud count, and richly colored evergreen foliage. This beauty starts blooming in early spring (or even late winter) and continues through midspring. Zones 8–10
Bold and beautiful, Moonlight Parfait® daphne has a lot going for it. It’s tough to say whether you’ll love it most for its variegated evergreen foliage, clusters of rose-pink blooms, or intoxicating fragrance. The combination of beauty and a sweet scent makes this shrub the perfect plant to ring in spring. Zones 6–9
It’s tough to talk about early-blooming shrubs without mentioning forsythia. It’s one plant you can see across the yard when it bursts into bloom! Springshine™ is an exciting newer selection that shows off bold golden-yellow flowers all along the stems from the top down. It also offers a tidy habit, growing only 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Zones 4–9
Here’s another yellow-blooming shrub that brings beauty and cheer to the garden, even on the grayest days. ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel produces golden spidery flowers along its stems that, when in full bloom, you can see from yards away. You’ll want to plant it where you can enjoy it up close, though, as the blooms bear a lovely fragrance. Zones 5–9
An absolute delight for gardens in mild-winter areas, Razzleberri® fringe flower starts blooming in early spring. As a bonus, it continues throughout the summer. If its delightful raspberry-red flowers aren’t enough, it also bears burgundy-purple new growth—a welcome infusion of color signaling winter’s end. Zones 7–9
‘Royal Star’ magnolia is a show-stopper in early spring when its silvery-gray winter buds burst open, revealing double waterlily-like flowers. These masses of blooms are a surefire sign saying spring has arrived. Let it grow as a large shrub, or train it as a small tree. Zones 4–9
Underutilized and underappreciated, this North American native evergreen deserves a spot in more gardens. In early spring, it shows off charming clusters of yellow flowers above its evergreen foliage. If pollinated, these blooms form clusters of blue fruits that attract birds and other wildlife. Zones 5–9
Celebrate winter’s end with the adorable pink flowers of Enchanted Forest® Impish Elf™ lily of the valley shrub. Its pink-purple buds and evergreen foliage add winter interest. The real show comes in early spring when the buds open to reveal its bright pink flowers. After the flowers fade, it puts on a second show as the new growth emerges a rich shade of red. Zones 6–8
An evergreen shrub for mild climates, Southern Moon® yedda hawthorn offers rich green leaves that look good all winter long. It announces spring’s imminent arrival, though, with the appearance of cheery clusters of fragrant white flowers. This shrub is fabulous as a hedge or backdrop to a perennial garden. It’s also good if you live near the beach, as it boasts good tolerance to salt spray. Zones 7–10
One of the finest flowering evergreens for Northern gardens, ‘P.J.M.’ rhododendron truly dazzles in early spring when its buds open to unveil lovely clusters of lavender-purple flowers. It’s an outstanding and reliable shrub for spring color. Plus, its relatively small size makes it an ideal companion for spring bulbs and early-season perennials. Zones 4–8
Himalayan sweet box is a tough-as-nails ground cover that signals spring with its clusters of little white flowers. The blossoms are pretty, but their standout feature is their fresh fragrance, which you can smell from across your yard. Plus, Himalayan sweet box thrives in dry shade. Zones 6–9
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