Early Spring Native Gardens: Keep Calm, Garden On

Native spring bling is so worth the wait!


native trillium in early spring
trillium on March 23rd

Outside the window near the table where I'm at the computer, I have a view of charming cherry trees across the street at the peak of bloom and a bank of yellow forsythia flowers to the left. The nearer view, our garden, is quieter in earliest spring.


For sure, perennials are emerging and foliage is beginning to unfurl. A few flower buds are afloat. Largely, though, blooms of native spring has yet to arrive. As the cherry trees, forsythia and other ornamental magnolias, quince, hyacinths and daffodils explode with color across the region, it occurs to me, we are mostly experiencing an Asian and European spring, as most of the blooms this early are from plants native to those regions. Our native spring is just around the corner!

Coral honeysuckle vine (Lonicera sempervirens) is an early growing perennial vine. The long tubular flowers are just budding up. Foliage and flowers are duskier in hue than later in spring.

Early blooming perennials and ephemerals have already pushed up mounds of foliage and a bloom or two. I often read that Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) bloom right around the time hummingbirds begin to migrate through our area. All three of these plants provide early nectar for pollinators.

Earlier emerging ground covers include dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), the diminutive woodland stonecrop, sometimes called three leafed stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) and creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) which will send up flower stalks later in spring.

Many spring blooming shrubs are already unfurling leaves and buds are forming.

native dogwood flower buds
budding flowers on a dogwood

The frothy blooms of serviceberries (Amelanchier obovalis) and iconic blooms of redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and dogwoods (Cornus Florida) are not far away. While the bloom profusion is yet to come to native plant gardens, certain species of butterflies and many pollinators are aloft. If we see butterflies, we know the caterpillars are there, a very good thing given the large numbers needed to feed birds.

spring native plants mosaic

In native gardens, early emerging flowers include Virginia bluebells, Celandine poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum), and trilliums (Trillium luteum, Trillium sessile, Trillium cuneatum). Since these are ephemerals that die back after spring, it's much easier to find them now rather than later in the year. These also tend to be far more readily available at native plant nurseries.


Back to that Asian and European spring, there is always room for those ornamental favorites in your garden. Dr. Doug Tallamy recommends we strive for 70% of our garden to be native. These fleeting cooler days are an ideal time to think about natives you might add. If you want to add spring blooming ephemerals like Virginia bluebells and trilliums, this is the time. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have some native spring bling!


Thanks for gardening for the Chesapeake.

We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

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Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.