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Maryland and Virginia Native Garden Building Blocks: Six Plants for Spring

Early growing and easy to grow!

mertensia virginica
Newly Emerged Virginia Bluebell in Late March

From ferns to trilliums, a long list of spectacular native plants grow and bloom in spring creating the potential for a magical garden. Which to start with? So many choices and no right or wrong answer. Here are six: a lineup based on an early start in growing, ease to grow, ability to do well in dappled or partial shade and average soils and easy to find in nurseries. These are sure to add texture, colors and, of course, ecological benefits to your spring garden from the ground up.

Virginia bluebells

Every native garden is enhanced by one of the native ephemerals, plants that appear in spring and then disappear as the weather warms only to return the following spring. Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are one of the earliest perennials to emerge with lush green growth, a welcome early spring sight. They are easy to grow and need no care once planted. They will also spread once established.

Virginia bluebells can be planted among other later growing perennials. The foliage of the other perennials will fill in as the Virginia bluebells die away. They could easily be planted among Christmas ferns.

Of these six, these are the most challenging to find because they are largely only available in the spring. Check with your favorite native plant nursery now if you are thinking of these for next spring. Garden centers also sometimes offer Virginia bluebells.

Christmas fern

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) aren't the most delicate or intricate of the native ferns. They more than make up for that with their ability to grow well in all types of shade, part shade, part sun and most soil conditions. The fact that they are mostly evergreen is another plus. The highlight of growing Christmas fern is the Dr. Seuss like unfurling of fronds in mid-spring. They change from day to day! Christmas ferns can be planted in groups in flower beds, in and among perennials and shrubs in a woodland garden, as a ground cover or even in a container. There is more about Christmas ferns here.

Christmas fern is pretty easy to find at both native plant nurseries and garden centers through the growing season.

Golden alexanders

Foliage of golden alexanders (Zizia aurea) emerges early in spring and flowers on the shorter side begin to bud. The golden alexander superpower is its ability to flower profusely in shade and carry blooms through to summer. The yellow umbel flowers are a paler than stronger golden yellows of a number of other spring native bloomers like woodland poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) and golden groundsel (Packera obovata). Golden alexanders bloom intermittently through the rest of summer in our garden and the foliage remains strong through the summer too. These perennials spread and create a meadow like feel. They are easy to remove where not wanted. Golden alexander is a great perennial if you are gardening on a budget as a few will turn into many more in just a few years.

These are generally available at native plant nurseries.

Pink Azalea

The graceful pink aromatic flowers of early blooming pink azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) sing spring. This is a deciduous shrub that thrives in moist, acidic soils but grows just fine in our average moisture non-acidic soils.

These shrubs are available through native plant nurseries.

Trumpet honeysuckle vine

Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) begins emerging in early March many years. The leaves gradually unfold as spring approaches and by the time the heart of spring is here, the tubular flowers will be blooming in force. A favorite of hummingbirds and people alike, this is so easy to train along a fence, a trellis, up the stake of a bird house or mailbox or just about any other upright structure you can think of! This is also an interesting vine because of the variable colors depending on the time of year.

This vine is available at both native plant nurseries and garden centers that carry native plants.


The magenta blooms of redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are magnificent in spring. There is something about buds emerging out of bare branches that is ethereal. These understory trees can take sun too. Though they are relatively small understory trees, dwarf redbuds are available for the smallest spaces. Kollar Nursery often carries these. A note if you visit garden centers in early spring: many are selling the chinese redbud as it flowers a week or two ahead of the native. The Chinese redbud (Cercis chinensis) tends to be smaller and vase shaped. Just something to keep in mind if you want the native.

Redbuds are available at native plant nurseries as well as garden centers that carry native plants.

They are so many fabulous natives to claim as your spring favorites. With these six in your mix, you will be well on your way to a native spring wonderland.

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.

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

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