When our gardens wake up in spring, they do so mainly with bulbs and flowering trees or shrubs. Aren’t there any good annuals or perennials to get our garden year off to a beautiful early start? Let’s look!

Annuals for Spring Blooms

These annuals can be relied upon to set color quickly when the soil warms up. Start them indoors from seed and set them out as early as you dare; or, if using plants, transplant them promptly into cool spring soil for longest bloom time:

Today's Pansies offer stunning colors to go along with those cheery faces!

Today’s Pansies offer stunning colors to go along with those cheery faces!

Pansy

Remember the ad showing the Eskimo family looking at a Pansy blooming from a sheet of ice? Most varieties aren’t quite that cold-tolerant, but they like it cold. In the south and west, they bloom all winter. Elsewhere, they are ready for spring before just about anything else.

Snapdaragon Night and Day breaks the sterotype of pastel-hued blooms.

Snapdaragon Night and Day breaks the sterotype of pastel-hued blooms.

Snapdragon

Many gardeners use Snaps in the fall and early winter, but they will flower heavily in spring if begun indoors about 8 to 10 weeks before last frost date. Don’t let them get too big indoors, however; pinch the tip of their stems when they have a couple sets of leaves, to increase the branching and to keep them a bit smaller until you can transplant them.

Poetry Mix is a Nemesia heavy on the whites and creams, which are the most fragrant!

Poetry Mix is a Nemesia heavy on the whites and creams, which are the most fragrant!

Nemesia (Busy Lizzie)

And while we’re in the Snapdragon family, take a new look at its cousin, Nemesia. Once only available from plants because the seeds were so hard to start, it is back with a whole new attitude and a lovely new vintage-toned look! These early spring blooms are quite fragrant (especially the white ones!), with a spicy clove scent reminiscent of Dianthus. They might attract the first butterflies into the annual bed, too!

Sweet Pea

The fragrant jewel in the crown of any early spring garden, this member of the Pea family should be started indoors in late winter. Use the 18-cell Bio Dome or peat pots; the roots really take off!

Laurentia (Blue Star)

Not grown nearly as much as it should be, this lovely annual is a secret waiting to be discovered by American gardeners. (It’s ubiquitous in Japan, and coming into its own in Europe.) Its small, starry blooms are sweetly scented, and they arise by the hundred on bushy little plants you can tuck into containers among the scent-challenged Petunias, Calibrachoas, and Lobelias. The flowers begin in late spring and usually go right through summer and fall. Rediscover this old-fashioned favorite, improved for earlier blooms.

Perennials for Spring Blooms

Long before the Tall Beardeds, welcome the (also tall) Louisianas!

Long before the Tall Beardeds, welcome the (also tall) Louisianas!

Louisiana Iris

It is probably possible (and certainly desirable!) for a dedicated gardener to have some kind of Iris blooming every month of the year, but the native Louisiana species gets my vote for its early start and beautiful velvety colors. You can divide it just as you do the Tall Beardeds and others, for years of enjoyment.

This Alyssum is like a Forsythia in sprawling groundcover form!

This Alyssum is like a Forsythia in sprawling groundcover form!

Alyssum

Not to be confused with the annual Sweet Alyssum (which starts in late spring), this stunning groundcover is hardy across the country, and so easy to grow! The old folks call it Basket of Gold, but it’s more like a river when you grow it to tumble over rocks and low walls! Bring honeybees and butterflies on the wing with this showstopper.

Columbine

These spurred blooms are unlike anything else in the garden!

These spurred blooms are unlike anything else in the garden!

Another native perennial that every garden deserves, Columbine doesn’t take off until late spring in many climates, but is it ever worth the wait! Today’s newest cultivated varieties have bigger blooms over a longer time. Try them once and I predict you’ll be back for more!

Such a rich source of blue, Viola goes anywhere in the garden!

Such a rich source of blue, Viola goes anywhere in the garden!

Viola

The muscled-up cousin of Pansy, this perennial offers smaller blooms but much, much greater vigor, better sun and heat tolerance, and (being a perennial) a longer life. The Horned Violet, Viola cornuta, lends itself especially well to containers and beds, and who can resist its common name of Johnny Jump Up?

Dianthus

An unbeatable source of early-season fragrance in the perennial border! Lately Dianthus breeding has really taken off, resulting in amazing new looks for gold old Garden Pink, China Pink, Bachelor’s Button, and all the other cottage-garden favorites. But no matter how their appearance changes, all the new looks seem to have kept that rich clove-and-allspice scent that is so irresistible.

You've heard this before, but "if you add only one new perennial to the garden this year," seriously consider Ballerina Red Thrift.

You’ve heard this before, but “if you add only one new perennial to the garden this year,” seriously consider Ballerina Red Thrift.

Thrift

Have you discovered this wonderful little pompon of a bloom yet? When we think of “Thrift” we tend to picture Armeria maritima, but this is a different species (A. pseudarmeria), one that blooms all spring, rests, and if it has been deadheaded promptly, often encores in summer! The flowers are lovely for cutting, and the plant is hardy in zones 5-9, particularly favoring hot, dry locations. (Rock garden, street island, or driveway edging, anyone?)


Start the flower show earlier than ever this year with beds, borders, and containers bursting with spring blooming annuals and perennials!

About Sappho Charney

Sappho Charney is a garden writer living in Lubbock, Texas.

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