Even though we don’t have long winters in North Texas, they are still dreary. As I write this, the temperatures are hovering around freezing and the sky is full and gray; rain is in the forecast. I eagerly await the warmer weather that will signal the spring flowering shrubs to wake up. Buds will swell and ripen, first bringing fresh green foliage and then blooms. The warm weather will also lure me out to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, and I can delight in their lovely fragrance and beautiful blooms - and pause occasionally to watch the antics of the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds that flock to them.
Here are few spring bloomers that I can’t help but love:
‘Anthony Waterer’ Spirea (Spiraea X bumaldi ‘Anthony Waterer’) is a deciduous, densely branched, upright and mounded shrub that grows to 2-3’ tall and 3-4’ wide. Small, medium green leaves are oval and sharply toothed, with new foliage emerging reddish-purple in the spring and maturing to blue-green as the growing season progress. Fall foliage is an attractive red-orange in the fall and persists until late winter. Tiny magenta-pink flowers form flat-topped clusters from late spring to mid-summer, with repeat bloom sometimes occurring with the cool fall weather. It blooms best in full sun but tolerates part sun. Little maintenance is required but I like to prune wayward stems to enhance the shape after blooming and lightly fertilize. Grow ‘Anthony Waterer’ grouped in the garden or as a low hedge. This variety of spirea has no serious insect disease problems, but spirea are generally susceptible to fire blight, so if you see blackened stems, remove them immediately. The flowers attract butterflies.
‘Dwarf Snowflake’ Mock Orange (Philadelphius X virginalis ‘Dwarf Snowflake’) is a deciduous, densely branching shrub that grows 3-4’ tall and wide into a natural vase shape. Elliptical, medium green, slightly quilted leaves create a lush appearance. Fragrant (resembling orange blossoms), double white flowers appear in clusters of 5-7 in spring. Site this plant carefully so that it receives morning sun and afternoon protection. Grow grouped in the garden or as a specimen, especially beautiful on the edge of a woodland garden. Water well the first growing season and watch it as the temperatures soar as it may need supplemental water. Fertilize lightly when you see buds appearing and prune to shape after flowering. If you don’t prune every season, the shrub may develop a loose, unattractive form. If it becomes too floppy, rejuvenate the shrub by cutting it to the ground after flowering. No serious insect or disease problems.
Eastern Snowball Viburnum (Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’) is a deciduous, upright, rounded shrub that grows slowly to a statuesque 10’ tall and 8’ wide. Glossy, bright green leaves are lobed and slightly frilly at the margins; they turn purple-red in the fall. Masses of large, snowball-like clusters of blooms make a showy display in early spring. Blooms start out lime green and open to pristine white. Eastern Snowball Viburnum grows well in part sun; full sun if given afternoon sun protection. One shrub is all you need to make a statement. Grow as a background plant, a specimen or trained into a small accent tree. After flowering, remove dead wood and shape, then fertilize lightly. To avoid potential fungal problems, provide good air circulation by not planting too densely around the shrub.
Japanese Rose (Kerria japonica) is a deciduous, sprawling but airy and graceful shrub that grows 6-8’ tall and up to 8’ wide. Single, five-petaled, rose-like, yellow-orange flowers bloom on slender, arching, bright green stems in early spring (it may produce a sparser bloom several weeks later). Narrow, ovate, bright green leaves follow bloom and look fresh year- round. After blooming the shrub fades into the background until fall when the foliage turns an attractive shade of clear yellow. Kerria grows in part shade to full shade. Grow it as a charming, informal, loose hedge or spilling over a wall. ‘Pleniflora’ is an attractive double-flowering variety, with rounded pom-pom like flowers. Will tolerate dry shade and heavy clay but performs best in amended soil that is kept consistently moist. The plant blooms on old wood, so any pruning should occur immediately after flowering. Dead branches may be removed at any time. Remove suckers as they appear if you wish to confine the size of the plant. No serious insect or disease problems.
‘Pee Wee’ Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’) is a deciduous, compact, multi-stemmed shrub that grows 3-4’ tall and 3-4’ wide. Dark green, deeply lobed, oak-like foliage turns a brilliant mahogany-red in the fall. Showy clusters of elongated, pyramidal panicles of white blooms appear late spring to early summer and fade to a lovely shade of buff, remaining on the shrub until well into the fall. Even when the blooms are gone, the cinnamon-colored, exfoliating bark is attractive in the winter. Grow ‘Pee Wee’ grouped in the garden or as a specimen. It will tolerate dry shade and competition from tree roots. Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood, so prune to shape in the summer after flowering (stem cuttings are easily propagated). Mulch to preserve soil moisture. Remove weak or winter damaged stems in early spring. Drought tolerant once established. No serious pest problems but Oakleaf Hydrangeas have some susceptibility to leaf blight and powdery mildew.
‘Rose Creek’ Abelia (Abelia X ‘Rose Creek’) is an evergreen, densely branched, compact shrub that grows 2-3’ tall and 3-4’ wide, forming a low mound. Attractive red stems are covered with small, glossy leaves that emerge with a pink cast in spring and mature to dark green as the growing season progresses. In late fall leaves change into a stunning combination of purple and green that persists through the winter. Showy clusters of small, tubular, fragrant, white flowers emerge from rose-pink sepals, giving the flowers a two-toned appearance. Bloom time is May through September. ‘Rose Creek’ Abelia is very hardy and is happy growing in full sun or part shade (although the best flowering occurs in full sun). It is very low maintenance. Grow ‘Rose Creek’ in groups in the garden or as a specimen; it also makes an excellent foundation plant or low hedge. It has no serious insect or disease problems. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
‘Nikko’ Deutzia (Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’) is a deciduous, dense, rounded shrub with slender, spreading, arching stems that grows 2’ tall and slowly spreads to 4’ wide. Lanceolate, deep green leaves set off tiny, fragrant, double white flowers in loose racemes which cover the shrub for about two weeks in spring. Leaves turn a lovely shade of burgundy in the fall. Grow it as a specimen, or a group in a sunny or partly sunny border. Stems are relatively short-lived, so annual pruning of dead branches is necessary and may benefit from the renewal method of pruning occasionally. Watch Deutzia in very hot weather as it may need supplemental water. No serious insect or disease problems.
When selecting a planting site, consider the plant’s sun requirements and place it where it can grow to its mature height and width without the interference of nearby plants and structures. Dig a planting hole 2-4” wider than the root ball to allow plenty of room for the roots to grow; planting depth should be equal to the height of the root ball (the root ball should sit on undisturbed soil). Shrubs perform best when planted in well-drained, amended soil. Mix compost with native soil to backfill the planting hole and firm the soil around the root ball. Mulch 6” out from the stem to retain soil moisture and water well. One of the most important steps after planting a shrub is to follow a watering schedule so that it can become well established.
Pruning flowering shrubs will keep them looking their best, and timing is important. Early blooming shrubs develop their flower buds during the summer and fall of the previous year (this is referred to “blooming on old wood”). As a general rule of thumb, shrubs that flower before June 15th should be pruned after flowering. Remove dead and crossing branches and lightly prune to attain the shape that you wish.
Some shrubs benefit from pruning by the renewal method. After flowering, prune out the largest stems to the ground to stimulate new growth from the crown; remaining stems can be shortened to shape.
Flowering shrubs may not be in the “plant it and forge it” category, but they will reward you with lovely blooms to lift your spirits every spring - and bring fragrance, beauty and pollinators into your garden.