One of the best aspects of spring is watching the garden come back to life. There's nothing quite like watching your outdoor space receive an injection of colour after the long, dreary winter.
Greenery and foliage plants are great, but the best plants for adding colour to the garden are those that bloom beautiful spring flowers. The good news is that we are spoiled for choice when planting spring floral displays. From the early spring flowers of the crocus to the enchanting blooms of clematis that appear later in the season, there is something to suit every style of garden and have it bursting with a rainbow of colour all season long.
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Planning a Spring Garden
Because there are so many spring plants suitable for garden areas, it pays to get planning before heading to the garden centre. Consider where you want colourful blooms to grow and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you looking to fill rock gardens, flower beds, borders or containers?
- Do you want to add height with shrubs and climbers?
- Is your garden in full sun or partial shade?
- Would you prefer early spring bloomers or ones that blossom later (or indeed, a mixture)?
- Are reliable perennial plants or charming annuals a better fit for your garden?
- Do you want to create a display of blooms all in one shade, or would you prefer an assorted blast of spring colour?
Use the answers to these questions to help you decide which spring flowers and plants to choose. Read on for more info on the best spring flowers to brighten the garden.
Spring Flowering Bulbs
Some of the best spring container ideas involve bulbs. However, bulbs also work well in flower beds and borders, often returning year after year.
Whether you're looking to create a show of one particular flower or like to mix and match blooms, bulbs are a quick and easy way to bring spring colour to the garden or patio.
Flowering from April to May, tulips come in rainbow colours, from delicate pastel tones to bold brights.
Tulips grow best placed in full sun and in moist, well-drained soil. They tolerate plastic or ceramic pots but grow best in terra cotta, which allows the soil to breathe and helps prevent it from getting waterlogged.
As well as colour, tulips are available in many sizes that grow to different heights. Try mixing bulbs to create a unique show. Some cultivars aren't reliable, so you may wish to plant tulips every year to ensure a stunning spring display.
Gardens never quite look complete without these cheery yellow flowers emerging in early spring. Instantly recognisable, daffodils are incredibly easy to grow and return year after year.
Daffodil roots grow to around 12 inches deep, so ensure any pot is big enough to accommodate them. Plant in moist soil that drains well to help prevent root rot. For the brightest yellow flowers, position in full sun, where the blooms can soak up at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
Technically, crocus flowers are grown from corms rather than bulbs, but they deserve a place on the list. Perfect for container gardening, crocuses boast gorgeous goblet-shaped blooms, usually in purple tones, that bloom from early spring. They are a valuable nectar source for the first bees to emerge after winter and are a great way to attract pollinators into the garden.
Crocuses are fairly reliable, and you'll see repeat blooms year after year. They prefer full sun and flourish in moist, well drained soil.
Snake's Head Fritillary
Part of the lily family, snake's head fritillary boasts unusual nodded bell-shaped flowers with a checkerboard pattern. White varieties are available, but snake's head fritillary is most common in shades of deep pink. The nectar-rich flowers bloom in March and April, attracting bees and other pollinators to the garden.
These bulbs thrive in full sun or dappled shade and prefer soil that is moist but well-drained. They are hardy, low-maintenance plants that come back every year.
Spring Bedding Plants
These plants are great for convenience. Simply choose your flowers and buy a tray ready to plant out in the garden. Once you've placed them in the soil - voila! An instant display of lovely spring flowers.
As you could probably guess, this low-growing annual boasts a sweet scent like honey. Its compact nature and mass of tiny flower clusters make it a popular choice for decorating the front of flower beds. These flowers appear from late spring/early summer and last all the way through to autumn.
Sweet alyssum is easy to grow in a sunny spot with moist, well-drained soil. These low-growing spring flowers are ideal for filling gaps in flower beds with long-lasting whimsical blooms.
Easy to grow, fragrant, and highly versatile, sweet peas are popular for flower beds and containers. In beds, they can be trained to grow up an obelisk to create height interest. In containers, they spill over the pot with a gorgeous trailing effect. Sweet peas make excellent picked flowers, filling the room with their romantic scent.
Sweet peas love to soak up the sun and flourish in direct sunlight. They do tolerate light shade but won't flower quite as well. Ensure the soil is well-draining and watch the flowers bloom from late spring.
Flowering from mid-spring to mid-summer, the garden forget-me-not bears masses of small blue spring blooms with bright yellow centres. These are pollen-rich and attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators to your outdoor space.
Forget-me-nots are native to the UK and thrive in moist but well-drained soil. They prefer a spot in dappled shade, making them ideal for planting around and underneath other plants.
When these hardy perennials begin flowering it's a sure sign that spring is just around the corner. Snowdrops are among the first flowers of the new year, starting to bloom in late winter with small, white, bell-shaped flowers emerging from even frozen or snowy ground in February. They are perfectly suited for underplanting trees, shrubs and hedges but also work well in container gardens.
Plant snowdrops in moist but well-drained soil in partial shade. Once established, these cute little plants demand very little maintenance and will return the following year.
This spring-flowering perennial is grown from tiny bulbs and produces spikes of bright blue and white flowers in mid to late spring. If you've missed the boat on planting bulbs for this year, grape hyacinths can be bought as flowering plants and transplanted into the garden.
Grape hyacinths grow well in most soil types, as long as the soil is moist but well-drained. They prefer full sun or partial shade and work equally well in spring containers as planted in borders or naturalised in a lawn.
Iris reticulata are early flowering perennials with blue-purple yellow ridged blooms on erect stems. The foliage is long, slender and upright, making it perfect for adding structure to borders and spring containers.
This dwarf variety of spring flowering plants tolerates partial shade but prefers a spot in full sun. Flowering in very early spring, it grows well in most soil types, provided the soil is kept moist but well-drained.
These small perennial plants reach up to 10cm in height and are perfect for bridging the seasons inbetween late winter and early spring. Bright yellow flowers, similar to buttercups, bloom from as early as late January, lasting until March and creating a carpet of colour.
As you'd expect from a winter-flowering plant, winter aconite is hardy against cold weather and grows in most soil types. Ensure the soil is moist but well-drained, and plant in full sun or partial shade.
Spring Flowering Shrubs and Trees
This deciduous shrub can be grown as a small ornamental tree and produces an abundance of star-shaped white blossoms every spring. However, it is also known for its dramatic foliage. New leaves are an elegant golden coppery shade before maturing to rich green hues. In autumn, the foliage is the star of the show, morphing to burnt orange and vivid red tones.
Plant amelanchier in full sun or partial shade and moist but well-drained soil. The more sunlight the tree soaks up, the more vibrant the autumn colour will get. These hardy trees require no pruning (other than removing dead or damaged branches) and are easy to look after.
Native to Asia, flowering quince is an easy-to-grow shrub with shiny dark green foliage and clusters of five-petalled flowers of vibrant red. Green-yellow fruits appear in autumn, extending the plant's interest into the latter half of the year. This deciduous shrub is a member of the rose family, so beware of spiky thorns along the branches!
Flowering quince tolerates partial shade, but the best flowering and fruiting happens when grown in full sun. This is a hardy shrub that doesn't require pruning and thrives in most moist but well-drained soil types.
Most commonly seen growing up and spilling over walls, fences and trellises, clematis alpina is a versatile climbing shrub that flowers in mid-spring. A range of cultivars is available, each with different floral tones, most commonly shades of purple and pink.
Also known as Austrian clematis, this climbing shrub is perfect for adding height interest to any outdoor space and looks fabulous trained up a fence at the back of a border or flower bed. It flourishes in full sun or dappled shade and does well in most soil types.
Rhododendrons are renowned for their large, showy spring blooms, and the barbatum variety is one of the most flamboyant. Glossy dark green leaves contrast beautifully with vivid crimson-red spring flowers from March.
This evergreen shrub can reach up to 8m tall and does best planted in full sun or dappled shade. It is relatively hardy against harsh winter temperatures and prefers soil that is kept moist but well-drained.
Spring Flowers for Window Boxes and Hanging Baskets
While window boxes and hanging baskets often get reserved for summer, it's delightful to see spring flowers spilling from them earlier in the year.
Pansy and Viola
These two spring flowers are related, and both work incredibly well in baskets and boxes. They come in a wide range of bright, bold colours and can be planted alone or alongside other plants for a unique, long-lasting display of spring blooms.
Position the spring container in full sun or dappled shade and keep the soil moist but well-drained. Water the soil, rather than the foliage or flowers, to help prevent the spread of fungal diseases.
With delicate pale yellow flowers and rosettes of lush green foliage, primroses are popular for spring pots, boxes and baskets. They flower in early spring and are a valuable nutrition source for the first bees and butterflies of the year.
Grow in a sheltered spot in full sun or partial shade for an abundance of spring flowers. Deadhead spent blooms to encourage new growth and further flowering.
Wallflowers work well with other spring flowers, including daffodils, and are a brilliant choice for boxes and baskets. Vividly toned flowers bloom from March and come in various colours, including orange, cream, red and yellow. These 4-petalled spring flowers grow on spikes and boast a pleasantly sweet scent.
Plant wallflowers in a sunny spot and ensure the container has plenty of holes to keep the soil well-drained.
When to Plant Spring Flowering Plants
Spring plants can be planted at different times of the year, depending on the plant's form.
Spring flowering bulbs take a little planning as they are best planted in autumn. Aim to have the bulbs in the ground before the first expected frost date. September and October are the optimum months for planting spring bulbs.
Annual bedding plants are most commonly bought 'green' and ready to plant out in the garden. Harsh temperatures can kill off annuals, so wait until the threat of frost has passed before filling flower beds, hanging baskets and window boxes with spring blooms.
The best time to plant perennials is in early-mid spring. Hardy varieties can be planted from March, but hold off planting tender perennials until April or May, after the last expected frost date.
Shrubs and Trees
Most trees and shrubs are considered a permanent feature of the garden, so don't be tempted to rush into planting them at the wrong time of year. Autumn is the ideal time for planting as the ground is moist but not yet hard and frozen. However, avoid planting trees and shrubs in waterlogged soil as this can damage the roots.
If you miss autumn planting, wait until early spring when the ground is once again soft. Note that shrubs and trees planted in spring will need watering more frequently than those planted in autumn.
Planting flowers is a wonderful way to cheer up the garden (and yourself!) after a long, dark winter. All the plants on this list are colourful spring bloomers that will help dispel the winter blues.
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