March is an exciting time in the northeast, as we begin to transition out of winter and anticipate the spring ahead. We’ll surely have some pockets of nice weather, and there’s no need to be concerned with the possibility of snow or cold temperatures. The following Spring Annuals and Early Bloomers have been dealing with these conditions for a lot longer than we have.
It’s definitely time to get back outside and into your gardens. Keep your planting limited to trees, shrubs and Spring Annuals for now. Some of the following plant selections are the best performers for this time of year. They’re going to extend your growing season and get some momentum started for the year. However, don’t limit your planting to just these plants; now is an ideal time to plant any trees or shrubs that strike your fancy. They’ll have more time to establish root systems and prepare for the stress of summer months.
Yellow and Red Twig Dogwood
Unique evergreens, of course keep their color all year long and are a staple of any healthy garden. Flowers don’t have to be the only source of beauty. The Yellow Twig and Red Twig Dogwoods are very unique and unmistakable. They’re spectacular shrubs for any home, and provide contrasting colors, when most other plants are dormant.
Shrub Dogwoods grow well in our area and do best in spots of partial to full sun. They can get quite large and benefit from pruning if the colors fade. It’s for this reason, I like to use them to define property lines or as borders in the landscape. It’s refreshing when you come home after a long day of work to see this display of color. They’re even more special when there’s snow on the ground.
Witch Hazel and Cornelian Cherry
Keeping close to the Dogwood family are two of our favorites. The Witch Hazel is a popular shrub that will likely bring the earliest flowers of the season. Together with the Cornelian Cherry, they always make a statement in any landscape. The distinctive pop of yellow is a sure indicator spring has arrived! Another early bloomer is Forsythia. Try using one as a specimen piece instead of a hedge or mass planting. Keep it pruned to display its soft texture and flowing branches. Hand pruning Forsythia provides much more character and charm than “balling it” with hedge shears. The additional work is worth the effort.
These plants can grow 9-11 feet high and will bloom before any green leaves appear on trees. They’re pretty hardy and fast growing too.
Pansies and Ranunculus
Everybody loves Pansies and for good reason, their large petals soak up the sunshine and bring pride and happiness to any property owner. Pansies are a spring annual so we have a relatively short time to enjoy them; they’re not tolerant of high temperatures. Pansies work very well in containers and perform well as an accent. Mother nature gives you plenty of options with the pansies. Choose from blue, lavender, purple, red, orange, bronze, yellow and white.
One of my favorite flower is Ranunculus. It too is a spring annual that reminds me of a Peony. The tight petals and perfectly symmetrical shape is stunning! As you’re planting your Spring Annuals, always leave room for some Ranunculus. You’ll know why after you try them.
If you’re looking for an early blooming perennial flower, consider Hellebores. These plants perform well in shade areas and hold true to their nickname “Lenten Rose” or “Winter Rose.”
Their bloom period usually corresponds with the Lenten season. Hellebores are very effective providing color to landscapes, most often void of interest in late March and April. When you use these in mass, they make a powerful statement. They also play well with other perennials that bloom later, so you can create a rotation of color out of the same bed.
Phlox subulata or creeping phlox is incredibly popular as they come into bloom. As the name implies, this plant will spread over rocks and retaining walls. Keep in mind they do need full sun to perform well. I love this plant to accent hardscapes and borders.
Each year dozens of guests come into the nursery and describe the beautiful colors and we know right away what they’re looking for. Definitely make a commitment to using this joyful perennial.
Evergreens provide year round interest. Every landscape should have a balance of evergreens and flowering shrubs and/or perennials. If you’re struggling with the type of evergreen to use, Blue Spruce is a perfect choice in sunny locations. The blue foliage is more pronounced in winter months and each variety of Blue Spruce provides as an attraction for birds. Whether it’s a dwarf variety or a fully mature tree, the branching provides valuable shelter and seeds for birds to enjoy.
It’s important to keep Blue Spruce away from overhead irrigation which causes fungal problems and this is why many of them lose their bottom branches. Each year there seems to be a new variety of Blue Spruce and one of my favorites in landscape design is the “Montgomery” variety. The low, compact habit works well as it frames the garden and commands attention. If you’re looking for a little more height without getting overgrown, the Baby Blue Eyes is a true dwarf that rarely requires pruning.
Remember to use Blue Spruce where there’s more than 6 hours of sun.
Keep it fun
The goal of this article is to encourage homeowners, especially those of you that enjoy gardening to evaluate their properties for this time of year. We’re all anxious for spring and summer to arrive. Using plants that perform earlier will increase your enjoyment of the landscape by extending the growing season. If you look around your neighborhood, you’ll notice there’s not much happening in most landscapes. I’m sure any combination of these early performers will provide some pleasure and alleviate the Winter Blues that many of us experience during this transition period.