Whether you’re renovating your garden or just looking for a bit more color, spring is an excellent time to consider adding some new plant material. Spring-flowering shrubs are a great way to liven up a yard. If you choose the right shrub to fit your needs, you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous spring display year after year.
1. Forsythia spp.
This may be one of the most flexible options for spring blooming shrubs. Forsythias can grow ten to fifteen feet tall and wide. They naturally have a beautiful, arching form when fully mature.
If you don’t have space for a mature specimen, they can be pruned into a smaller, compact shrub, or even used as hedging. Make sure to prune your forsythia after it has bloomed in the spring because it will start to set next year’s blooms soon after the new growth appears.
They prefer full sun and may benefit from supplemental irrigation in dry areas. Lots of mulch is helpful to provide water retention and nutrients.
Hardy to zone 5.
2. Lilac (Syringa spp.)
Lilacs are very durable shrubs that prefer drier locations, such as on slopes and in well-drained soils. They also require very little feeding. A high phosphorus fertilizer in early spring will promote blooms, whereas too much nitrogen in the soil will actually reduce flowering.
Cutting off the old blossoms once they’re done will promote more flowers the next year. You can also prune lilacs as needed to either control their size or shape. They have a tendency to spread by runner shoots, which you can cut off at ground level.
The most common bloom colors for lilacs are purple and white, with yellow and bicolor varieties also available. The strength of their scent varies with each variety, but all blooms will have the classic heady lilac aroma that can drift throughout your entire yard.
Hardy to zone 3.
3. Daphne spp.
The fragrance of daphnes is what makes these plants stand out. There are many different types, and all of them smell amazing.
The rock daphnes are a group of spreading groundcovers. They grow up to ten inches tall and make attractive mounds similar to heathers. Cultivars of Daphne cneorum are commonly available in garden centers. There are also a few shrub daphnes. Most of these tend to be smaller shrubs, only getting two to four feet tall, like Daphne x burkwoodii. The occasional variety, like Daphne bhoula, can grow up to eight feet tall.
All types of daphne are quite low-maintenance. They rarely need any pruning or shaping. They appreciate moist soils with good organic matter. Daphnes are considered poisonous plants, so take care if you have pets in your yard that like to forage.
The hardiness zone varies depending on which type you choose, anywhere from zone 4 for Daphne burkwoodii, to zone 8 for Daphne bhoula.
4. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis spp.)
Witch hazels may be the earliest blooming shrub of all. In many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, witch hazels may start to bloom in January or February.
They have a distinct, hairy-looking blossom that is often fragrant, depending on the variety. The species witch hazels, such as Hamamelis virginiana, tend to smell stronger than modern hybrids, like Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’.
Witch hazels are understory plants in their natural habitats and tend to do better in partial, but not full, shade, and moist soil. They’re a slow-growing shrub, with an open vase-like form that will not become too dense. They can grow up to twelve feet, although they blend easily into the background once they’re done blooming for the year.
The hardiness zone can range from zone 3 to zone 5.
5. Viburnum spp.
Most viburnums have attractive blossoms, but not all viburnums smell. Whereas the early varieties Viburnum carlesii and Viburnum x bodantense are worth planting for their spring fragrance.
Both with grow up to eight feet tall and wide over time, but can be easily pruned to shape. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil with good organic matter. Both make effective hedging plants or can stand alone as specimens.
Viburnum carlesii is a hardiness zone 4 and Viburnum x bodantense is hardy to zone 5.
6. Rhododendron spp.
A celebrity of spring-flowering shrubs, rhododendrons can be absolute show-stoppers for a few weeks every year. They are available in countless colors and shades to suit any taste or garden plan.
They have leathery, evergreen leaves and can grow up to twenty feet tall and wide when mature. They can be pruned back to fit into your space as well.
Rhododendrons prefer partial or full shade and a protected location that doesn’t get a lot of wind. They do best in moist, acidic soil high in organic matter. A fall application of fertilizer suitable for acid-loving plants will give them an extra boost.
Most varieties of rhododendrons are not very cold tolerant, and will only be hardy to a zone 7 or 8. Although this is slowly changing as plant breeders develop cultivars that are more hardy. If you live in a colder climate, keep an eye out for hardy selections in your local garden center.
7. Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
These shrubs may be overlooked due to the fact they have thorns. But their show of bright white, pink or red flowers early in the spring makes them worthy of a second look. In addition, they will produce quinces in the fall. These are two-inch, round, nutritious fruit that are traditionally used in jams, jellies and baking.
If you have a place in your garden where the thorns won’t be an issue, or you’re looking for a good natural deer fence, flowering quince could be a great option.
They grow up to eight feet tall and wide. They can handle many different types of growing conditions, are not particular about what type of soil they grow in, and are drought tolerant once established.
Hardy to zone 4.
8. Azalea (Rhododendron spp.)
These are the smaller cousins of rhododendrons. They are often deciduous and lose their leaves in winter, unlike their evergreen relatives.
Azaleas typically grow from two to eight feet tall. If you need to prune them to shape, make sure to do this soon after the blooms have finished for the year. They will start to set flower buds for next year in the spring.
They prefer partially shady locations and can handle a bit more sun than rhododendrons. The soil should be acidic. Mulching with pine or other conifer needles can be a great way to reduce the pH if your soil is too alkaline.
The hardiness zone for azalea varieties can range from 5 to 8.