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Friday, November 25, 2022
Growing Together: Early bloomers that add a splash of springtime colour



Can’t you feel it?

The air temperature is warming up and the soil temperatures are rising. The crocuses are blooming and spring is about ready to explode.

Why not get an early kick-off to spring by adding some of these early-blooming plants into your garden?

If you were asked to come up with the name of an early-blooming shrub, most people would probably say forsythia, which would be correct, but there are more plants that will start to bloom here even earlier than that.

One  is the Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis). It is a larger growing shrub, reaching a height of 10 to 15 feet and just as wide.

It is known for its sweetly fragrant, golden yellow, unique-shaped flowers. There is also a reddish/orange flowering variety of witch hazel named "Diane" (Hamamelis x intermedia Diane). One is blooming in front of the NOTL Community Centre now.

It is the first flowering shrub to come into bloom in late winter/early spring. Witch hazel prefers a slightly sheltered location in full sun or a dappled shade. In fall, the leaves turn yellow to orange to red, making it a showpiece in the garden. The plant is hardy to zone 5.

Another larger flowering shrub that provides flowers early spring is the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas). Even though it is called a “cherry” it is actually in the dogwood family, but is unlike other dogwoods.

This large, multi-stemmed shrub is covered in a mass of small, bright yellow flowers late winter to early spring and sometimes is confused with forsythia.

Large, red fruit (drupes) ripens in July. It resembles olives in size and shape. They are used in European cuisine for drinks, syrups, preserves, jams and sauces.

They can be eaten fresh or dried, though they need to be fully ripe in order to lose some of their bitterness. The Cornelian cherry can grow up to 20 feet high and wide, and is hardy to zone 4.

Winter heath (Erica carnea) is another shrub that will provide you with flowers late winter through to mid-spring. This evergreen has masses of tiny flowers covering the entire plant.

There are many varieties, with flower colours ranging from white to light pink to magenta and purple. Heath is a low-spreading evergreen growing about 18 inches high and two feet to three feet wide.

One of the earliest blooming perennials that is commonly grown in the Niagara area is the Lenten rose (Helleborus), aptly named as it is often in bloom during the Lent season, prior to Easter.

Although it is considered a perennial, it keeps its foliage during the winter months as well. As soon as the snow is melting away, the Helleborus flowers start to poke their heads out.

There are many different varieties available and many different flower colours from white to apple green to light pinks through to almost black. Flowers are long-lasting. Helleborus loves a shadier, moist area and benefits from the addition of lime around its roots. They are hardy to zone 5.

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera) is another early-blooming perennial that thrives in a part shade location. It sports large, heart-shaped leaves with tiny, light blue, forget-me-not-like flowers in early spring.

Some of the varieties have two-toned leaves – green veining and edges and silver in between the leaves making them a showy plant in multiple seasons. Two varieties of special note are "Jack Frost" and "Alexander’s Great."

Primroses are another old-time perennial favourite that always indicates the arrival of spring.

Its cheery clusters of brightly coloured flowers coupled with a sweet scent make this plant a welcome addition to the front of the part shade border. Flower colours range from lemon yellow to shades of pink to magenta to purples and reds. Primroses prefer a moist, but well-drained soil.

By adding some of these plants into your garden, along with spring flowering bulbs, you will be welcoming spring into your homes that much sooner – and who wouldn’t want that?

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at