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Our Favorite Early-Blooming Shrubs


The countdown to spring has begun in earnest now that the early-blooming shrubs have begun to strut their stuff! Granted, nursery plants often bloom a bit early because our winter shelter for them heats up too easily, but the landscape plants aren’t far behind. Right around the corner it’ll be the season for Witchhazels and Winter Jasmine, two of our earliest-flowering shrubs that brave the cold of late winter and serve to remind us that the shivering and cabin fever are almost over.


Witchhazels are native to North America and east Asia (China and Japan). Our only local native is fall-blooming, a useful garden trait but one that is difficult to take advantage of because the leaves are often still on the branches at flowering time, making the flowers hard to see. The vast majority of those you’ll see in public gardens and nurseries are the hybrid Asian varieties, which cheer up the February landscape in rich tones of yellow, orange and coppery-red. Several are fragrant, and all make stately large shrubs or small trees that look amazing underplanted with spring bulbs, evergreen groundcovers, or perennials. Their leaves give another show of color in autumn (gold, orange or red), and they’re pretty undemanding in their care.

Winter Jasmine

Winter Jasmine is often mistaken for Forsythia due to its early-blooming habits and yellow flowers. Instead, these blooms appear earlier than Forsythia and, while unscented and more sparsely produced, still command attention when spilling down a wall or slope. Leaves are shed for winter, but young stems stay green, adding a bit of much-needed color.

Winter Jasmine in summer

Others about to join in on the fun include Daphne, Camellia, Paperbush, Pussywillow, and Winterhazel. Of course, some plants never stopped being colorful – they just changed their colors for winter. Red-twig Dogwood and many needled evergreens are currently sporting rich colors that will fade with the warming weather.

Red-Twig Dogwood

Winter in gardens is often overlooked as a season of interest when it really shouldn’t be. A plethora of evergreens make it easy to keep things interesting and lush while still letting you enjoy a range of colors, shapes, and textures to give the garden variety. Plus, there are berries still adorning branches that the birds haven’t found (or don’t want), trees with peeling bark, and shrubs whose bare stems become painted in bright sunset colors. Wouldn’t it be uplifting to see a vibrant garden out of the window this time of year instead of our typically bleak landscapes? We still may pine for spring, but at least the wait would be much more pleasant.

by Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Enjoyed this article. I’m just wondering why you didn’t mention the Lenten rose, which I just planted this year because I was told it was the first plant to bloom in late winter into spring? I’m watching the 5 I planted closely in hope!

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