Northeast Regional Reports

Spring Planting Plan for the Northeast

spring planting plan northeast
Illustration: Elara Tanguy

In her article “Spring Planting Ideas,” Michelle Gervais beautifully illustrates the magical time that is the start of spring: “Our winter-weary spirits lift as hints of green begin to appear. We notice even the smallest patches of snowdrops and crocuses as we drive by at 55 miles per hour. The first daffodil sighting is a thrill, and tulips are almost too colorful to bear. The pale chartreuse haze in the trees seems to change to lush, vibrant green overnight, and every new sprout brings delight. It’s the start of another exciting season, and the potential and possibilities for our gardens seem boundless.”

While spring is often a flurry of planting, planning, and performing the many garden chores in between, it’s always a treat to have some plants that will kick off the season with color while others are still waking up and waiting for warmer weather to show off their best. This spring planting plan was crafted by regional expert Daniel Robarts and would be a spectacular addition to any Northeast garden.


1. ‘Cornell Pink’ Korean rhododendron

Cornell Pink Korean rhododendron
Photo: Jennifer Benner

Name: Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink’

Zones: 4–7

Size: 4 to 8 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Korea, Japan, northern China

Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite rhododendrons. R. mucronulatum is a deciduous species with surprisingly few named selections in the trade, but ‘Cornell Pink’ is one I can’t do without. Bursting forth in late April, its vibrant, bubblegum-pink blossoms cover naked gray stems. These flattened blooms are a boon for early-rising native pollinators, including bumblebees. The blossoms fade after two to three weeks, giving way to soft green foliage. This shrub’s moderate size, hardiness, and early bloom period make it a wonderful choice for northern landscapes. To avoid legginess and to maintain good health, give it some hours of direct sun either early or late in the day. Soil rich in organic matter is ideal, but avoid soggy conditions.


2. False Solomon’s seal

False Solomons seal

Name: Maianthemum racemosum

Zones: 3–8

Size: 1 to 3 feet tall and 1½ to 2 feet wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; dry to moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Eastern North America

This native woodland perennial is sorely underused in gardens. In spring its graceful stems emerge upright, only to quickly nod downward. As the ovate foliage slowly uncurls, a subtle zig-zag pattern emerges between alternate leaves. In late spring to early summer, tight clusters of buds bear a multitude of starlike flowers. The blooms are generally white but can also be tinged yellow or pink. Fruit clusters follow the floral display, emerging tan and maturing to a bright red color when ripe in late summer. Once established, false Solomon’s seal is drought tolerant. I suspect that with so many points of interest, as well as wide adaptability, this species will become more popular in years to come.


3. Korean tassel fern

Korean tassel fern
Photo: Ann B. Stratton

Name: Polystichum polyblepharum

Zones: 5–9

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and 1½ to 2 feet wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Japan, southern Korea, eastern China

Korean tassel fern is a foliage all-star. Like most of its relatives in the genus, it has light green fronds that are wonderfully lustrous and can add a bright and notable sheen to often-matte woodland gardens. The rachis (main stem) is covered with copper-colored hairs that provide a wonderful contrast with the rich green of the pinnae (leaflet stems). While this fern does grow from rhizomes, it’s clump-forming and not as aggressive a spreader as many other ferns. It prefers moist soil with lots of organic material, although it will grow fine in less than ­ideal conditions. Although relatively drought tolerant once established, Korean tassel fern will decline if dry conditions persist over years. Waterlogged soil should be avoided to prevent rot. In early spring, old fronds can be removed to tidy up the plant’s appearance. Be sure to sharpen your shears, however, as these evergreen fronds don’t let go easily.


4. ‘Appletini’ hosta

Appletini hosta

Name: Hosta ‘Appletini’

Zones: 3–9

Size: 6 inches tall and 12 to 14 inches wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Hybrid

This is one of the finest small hostas I have grown. Vibrant yellow, waxy foliage emerges in spring. It becomes chartreuse and then matures to a shiny, Granny Smith–apple green. These leaves are rigid and slug resistant, forming tight clumps. With its compact form, ‘­Appletini’ can really juice up a shady landscape of any size as a border or specimen plant. Late in summer, lavender-purple flowers are borne above the foliage, which contrast well with the leaves. Hostas are workhorses in the perennial garden, and while they are not native plants, their blooms provide ecological value to native insects foraging for pollen and nectar. This hosta will do best in rich soil with ample moisture, but it can be very drought tolerant. Of the thousands of hosta cultivars out there, ‘Appletini’ is really top-shelf.

Daniel Robarts, Ph.D., is a horticulturist at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine.

View the full collection of regional planting plans and see the rest of issue 216.

View Comments


Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest