Ten Colorful Early Spring Plants for Your Minnesota Garden

In a few days, our front garden is about to look the best it ever has! I’ve worked so hard on this and waited so long! Do you know that feeling, fellow gardeners?!? In case you, like me, want C O L O R ! ! as soon as possible in spring, here’s a list of what to plant so that next spring your gardens bust out of winter in style! Every single one of these flowers is blooming at the same time in our east-facing urban garden (today is May 11).

1. Rhododendrons

An evergreen (but not needled) shrub that explodes with color very early in the season. They are hardy perennials and can grow to great heights if you want them / let them / choose the right variety. Azaleas are very similar and available in yellow and orange but many types lose their leaves or at least have much smaller leaves, so you’ll have to juggle what’s more important to you and thoroughly research what you’re buying.

2. Daffodils

Don’t yawn, ok? There are a bazillion types of fancy daffodils that will blow your mind. Fragrant, mini, frilled, white, pink, double… etc. They also naturalize, which means they come back in more numbers year after year! They are so cheery and can be harvested for cut flowers inside too. Plant in fall.

3. Tulips

Heard of peony tulips? They’re incredible and so fluffy and often fragrant! Tulips come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes. To maximize the bloom time, be sure to plant a variety of early, mid and late season tulips (same with daffodils). I feel like they’re the spring version of a dahlia. Be careful or you’ll get hooked. Plant in fall.

4. Hellebore

Badass name, cute little flower! These have an incredible vase life if you harvest them at the right stage. They are also incredibly cold hardy. When we got dumped on with snow last month, mine was already flowering (because I’d purchased it at Trader Joe’s) but I had it in the ground. It got 100% smooshed by the snow. Covered, frozen. Was FINE after it melted, just sprang back to life. Zombie flower … I wonder if that’s why it got that name?

5. Pansies

They are well known for being very cold tolerant and can be sure signs of spring. My favorites are the Frizzle Sizzles. While they’re treated like annuals for the most part, try leaving them in the garden and you may be surprised next year (I was!). Very slow to grow from seed; not a beginner’s plant I’d say. PS: I will never stop seeing them as little kitten faces, thanks to Alice in Wonderland.

6. Ranunculus

Annual in our zone, but a special one that’s worth it. Tricky to grow, but worth putting some money into if you want luxurious, never ending layers of petals. The color palette available is very sherberty but there are also great vibrant colors. You can find them at Wagner’s for sure, but call your local greenhouse come next March.

7. Crocus

Truly like, the first thing to come up! So magical. Very common is the purple crocus, but I recently found PINK in a Breck’s catalog (that’s otherwise sooo overpriced, don’t shop from there). I also like the yellow. Get a rainbow if you want! Plant in fall.

8. Hyacinth

I am going to cheat and put two under this category so I don’t mess up my list of ten! Hyacinth is an intoxicatingly fragrant spring bulb, planted in the fall like many others listed here. It’s many small flowers and is most commonly blue, pink or purple but you can find less common colors like peach, deep magenta, yellow etc. Check out Dutch Grown for a fun selection. Muscari is also known as grape hyacinth and is a fraction of the size. It’s very fragrant as well but is much more limited. Classically, it’s blue but there’s some pastel pinks and white I think, too. Both hyacinth and grape hyacinth are pretty short in the landscape, only 6 inches high or so. Plant in fall.

9. Bleeding Heart

Love it or hate it or vacillate somewhere between based on what time of year it is, bleeding heart is a cute novelty of a spring bloom. It likes shade, it’s almost indestructible, it’s SO early, and it really adds a pop of color. Perennial.

10. Forsythia

I fell in love with forsythia in Vermont when I lived and farmed there (two different years!). It can get absolutely enormous, like lilacs. It’s a bright golden yellow set ablaze very early in the season. It makes a great cut flower and in fact, you can even cut them in winter time and bring them indoors for “forcing” – the indoor temps trick them into thinking it’s spring and thus time to bloom. The rest of the year, it’s covered with simple green foliage. Prune carefully, as it blooms on old wood. Perennial shrub.

My Wishlist

Crabapples, quince, flowering almond and magnolia are also treasures that are blooming right now! Those are all shrubs, but as far as flowers, I’d love pasque flower and frittilaria in my garden for a little fairy energy. Bloodroot as well!

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Tell me your favorite spring bloomers or what you’re most colorful time of year is in your own garden!