Gardening Blog

Early spring blooms

Early spring is my favourite time of year. Gardeners across Canada are so starved for petals, that it’s always a thrill to see the first flowers emerging in our gardens. Most of us had to wait three or four weeks longer than usual this year, but the insulating snow cover protected our most precocious bloomers, who cheerfully thrust their flowers up through the cold soil the moment the snow had melted.

The first flowers to appear in my own garden are always the late-winter witchhazels. ‘Pallida’ (Hamamelis ×intermedia ‘Pallida’) is usually blooming its head off by the last week of February in my Zone 5a garden, but this year I had to wait until mid-April. ‘Pallida’ always flowers before the snow has melted, so it’s worth its weight in garden gold.

For more information on how to grow witchhazels and the best cultivars to choose for your own garden, have a look at my plant profile: witchhazel in the Annual 2014 issue of Canadian Gardening.

Late winter snows are a fact of gardening life in Canada, and can even hit when mid-season tulips are in bloom. At this time of year, gardeners often write and ask us if they need to protect their earliest flowers (snowdrops, crocuses, winter aconite and Iris reticulata) when late snows and sub-zero temperatures are forecasted. The answer is “no”.

All of these early bloomers (as well as herbaceous perennials such as hellebores, bloodroot and pulmonaria) come equipped with a sort of botanical antifreeze running through their veins. The only damage done by a heavy, wet, late-winter snowfall is that it may bend the blooms so that they face the soil—but the good news is that they’re usually quick to spring back up again.

They don’t call them snowdrops (Galanthus spp. and cvs.) for nothing, and this year, mine got snowed on, as did the iris reticulatas that were also trying to open.

I love blue and white together, so I always intersperse my snowdrops with these mini-irises that bloom at the same time.

As you can see, three days later there is no visible damage, although it did make the leaves of the double snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’, Zone 3) stretch a bit.

The same held true for a small clump of broad-leaved snowdrops (Galanthus platyphyllus syn. G. latifolius, Zone 3) in another part of the garden. Notice where the squirrels have been trying to dig up the iris bulbs (bottom centre).

Another early spring bulb that combines my two favourite spring colours is Chionodoxa forbesii (or glory-of-the-snow, Zone 3). Planted in autumn, the bulbs are inexpensive, and spread as readily as Siberian squill (Scilla siberica, Zone 4) do, but flower a full month earlier. I planted 50 in my rose garden about five years ago, and they have spread beautifully, and now even punctuate my lawn with cheerful little bouquets of sky blue and white. They aren’t even deterred by the rose bed’s bark mulch!

Next time, we’ll look at early-flowering herbaceous perennials. Stay tuned …!

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