Spring Flowers – 3 Early Bloomers you should have!

A large colony of Virginia Blue Bells. This flower will eventually go dully dormant in June, allowing your other flowers to fill in the space!

Early Spring Flowers for your Garden!

Start your growing season off right by planting these 3 Spring Flowers that bloom early to give your garden stunning color!  These Native Perennial Plants attract a wide variety of pollinators, and are valuable to the ecosystem in addition to being beautiful!  We love having these around as they give great curb appeal.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

This is one of the earliest US Native Spring Flowers to bloom in the spring.  Depending on the temperature it can begin as early as mid-April (Zone 5). The clusters of pink-to-blue flowers are beloved by bumble bees and are an important food source for these pollinators.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Growing Conditions

Virginia Blue Bells generally stays 1-2’ tall, and is shade loving.  It is normally found in forest, or along the edge. This author has successfully grown it in full sun, but in general it is found in forests or along the edge of meadows.  So, if you have a shady area, or part shade (<6 hours sun) this can be a great addition. Furthermore, this plant won’t compete with other perennials as once it is done blooming it will go dormant until next spring.  So, crowding isn’t as much of an issue with these.

They can self-seed an colonize an area, but are quite easy to pull when young.  If you wish to collect seed from these plants, then check on them when the foliage begins to turn yellow, as this is the sign that they are going dormant.  The seeds are somewhat tiny and hard. They should be planted immediately, or stored in the refrigerator. If they are stored in room temperatures they are unlikely to be viable for planting next year. If you wish to buy seeds, order here: Virginia Bluebell Seeds

This plant requires stratification.  So, it is a great candidate for winter sowing, but artificial stratification can be done in the refrigerator as well.  See the video below for a tried and true method that is simple yet effective for cold moist stratification.

Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis)

Almost like a beautiful, petite, lantern.
Aquilegia Canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine in Bloom

These is an early blooming perennial spring flowers that are LOVED by hummingbirds.  If you can bring hummingbirds in early, while they are still migrating you will increase the chances of them building a nest near your home!  The flowers look somewhat like tiny Chinese Lanterns, are red to pink, and are very interesting to look at. The blooms are so intricate and beautiful, that they are worth examining up close.  This is a great addition to any flower bed, rain garden, or where you have some shade. Although it only blooms in the spring, the foliage is interesting to look at and is attractive year round.

Growing Conditions

Eastern Red Columbine is Native to the eastern half of North America.  This shade loving plant is tolerant of full sun, but in dry areas the leaves could wilt in late summer.  It is a tough plant, and I have grown it in well drained rich soil as well as clay. Depending on conditions, it can get up to 3’ (1m) tall, and require 2’ (0.65m) spacing.

The interesting purplish/blue/green foliage will typically begin to emerge in mid-late April (Zone 6), and blooms will start 2-3 weeks after.  I’ve had this plant bloom for up to six weeks, but 4 weeks is more common. That is usually long enough to carry you into June. In addition to being a great hummingbird nectar source, other butterflies will visit the plant as well.  It is also a larval host for the Columbine Duskywing butterfly. Finches are known to eat the seeds, so it is like having a natural bird feeder in your yard too!

To grow this plant, either purchase native varieties from local garden centers (big box stores typically don’t carry it).  Or, grow it from Columbine Eastern Red seeds (see video below). The seeds from this plant require 1-2 months of cold moist stratification, but I prefer to winter sow it.  You can even just scatter some seed on a cleared patch of ground and it will likely yield some germination. The seeds are tiny, shiny, black, and they require light to germinate.  This plant is known to be a good self-seeder, so you will likely have some volunteers the following year.Eastern Red Columbine Aquilegia canadensis

Other considerations…..

In the wild, Columbine is known for growing on boulders and other inhospitable areas.  And because of this, it doesn’t like too much competition, but can do great in a maintained garden setting.  Rabbits will eat the leaves, so the plant should be protected for the first year through liquid fence, fencing, or other means.  Deer are also known to eat this plant.

 

Wild Blue Indigo / False Indigo (Baptisia Australis)

This is a stunning addition to any garden.  Their late Spring Flowers are dark purple/blue, clustered on vertical stems emerging from the foliage.  This plant is a legume, meaning it is a member of the pea family and has the ability to add nitrogen to the soil if the right bacterium is present.

Growing Conditions

This plant can get up to 4 feet (1.3 m) tall, but has interesting foliage making it attractive all year!

This plant prefers full sun (6 hours or more) and can tolerate a wide range of soil, from rich loam to clay.  It can get 3-5’ (1-1.5m) depending on conditions. There are dwarf cultivars available commercially. The smooth leaves emerge in April, yielding beautiful blooms in late spring.  After blooming, the smooth foliage will make for an pretty and interesting display for the remainder of summer into fall. In Autumn, this plant will turn silver/gray. This plant is a host to a number of butterfly larva; Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, Elfin, and Wild Indigo Duskywing.  The nectar is favored by bees and butterflies.

This plant and several cultivars (dwarf, white) are available commercially.  The cheapest method to obtain this plant is to grow it from False Indigo seeds. The seeds need scarification, and then should be planted 1/8”-1/4” deep (3mm-6mm).  If scarified properly you should see germination within a couple of weeks. This plant grows slow, and may not bloom until the third year.

Beware of our furry friends!

Rabbits will eat the plant, so it should be protected with Liquid Fence, fencing, or other means. I recommend getting the concentrate and using this 1 gallon sprayer.  It is also said to have moderate deer resistance, although I haven’t grown it in an environment where they frequent –yet.  The juice from this plant can be used to make a blue dye, hence the common name Indigo. Although the Native Americans used this plant medicinally, you should not consume it as it is toxic.

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