Spring Spectacular

from Garden, Deck & Landscape
Many flower garden designs call for tall elements. Why not include an early-blooming shrub for color and interest?

Early-blooming shrubs add cheer to any garden. Here are some top picks you can plant this spring.

When little else is blooming, spring-flowering shrubs enliven the garden with vivid flashes of color, giving winter-weary gardeners a taste of what they hunger for. These showy plants also deliver an unmistakable
message: Spring is here. Happily, some of the best of these shrubs are among the easiest to grow.

Many spring-blooming shrubs are deciduous and quite hardy, which is good news for Northern gardeners. Evergreen types are often less hardy, though several azaleas are reliable to Zone 6 and some rhododendrons to Zone 5. Bear in mind that flower buds can be more tender than the rest of the plant, so if you’re growing a spring bloomer near the limit of its cold hardiness, you risk losing the bloom, at least in cold years.

At the other end of the climate spectrum, in Zones 9–10, deciduous shrubs may not experience enough cold weather to satisfy their chilling requirement, resulting in poor blooms. Zone 9 and 10 gardeners are hardly deprived of color, but many of the best shrubby bloomers for your climate flower in the heat of summer rather than spring.

Just a Trim
The highlight of spring bloomers is, obviously, the bloom. So pruning should be timed to preserve the flower buds, which means you should trim soon after the bloom concludes, in late spring or early summer.

The style of pruning depends on the shrub. However, most discussed here can be controlled easily with selective trimming: Just remove stray branches that disrupt the shape or symmetry of the plant.

Plants that grow in expanding clumps, sending up shoots from the ground, are best pruned by removing the oldest, largest shoots from the base of the plant. This method keeps the plant contained and cycles old branches out as new, vigorous shoots take their place. Lilac, forsythia, and Van Houtte spirea are examples of plants that lend themselves to this style.

Shearing spring bloomers, as some people do with spirea and forsythia, does not take advantage of the bloom. Though some plants tolerate shearing, it eliminates the long, arching stems that show off the flowers so well.

Decent Exposure
Many of the shrubs listed here are tough customers and can take the worst you’re likely to throw at them. As with most plants, they thrive in moist, but well-drained, rich soil; however, they’ll tolerate less-than-ideal conditions. They prefer full sun; less than a half day of sun reduces bloom significantly.

Azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias are pickier and need acidic soil and some shade. But even these shade lovers bloom less if the shade is too deep. Ideally, find a spot with filtered sun, or morning sun and afternoon shade.

Finally, remember to plant your spring bloomer in a visible spot so that you, and everyone else in the neighborhood, will get the good news: Spring is here!

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