Editors note: “A Better Life” is a new weekly column by the USU Extension – Tooele Office that focuses on a variety of topics intended to enhance quality of life.
January seems a little early to be talking about springtime blooms, but the plant catalogs are arriving and the anticipation of a new year in the garden makes winter seem a little less long. The spring weather is certainly unpredictable but the hardy perennials and spring bulbs have enjoyed a rest and are ready to begin doing their thing. A blast of color can invigorate and excite the visual sense and provide hope that winter will indeed end.
Spring bulbs include tulip, crocus, daffodil, fritillaries, and more. These bulbs are planted in the fall, the colors are numerous, and sizes vary from miniature to giant. The miniature bulbs are so much fun: tiny iris, daffodils and hyacinths. Some bulbs begin emerging as early as February while other bulbs bloom a little later. Most are finished by May.
Perennials begin reviving when the daytime temperatures start climbing and new growth emerges rapidly and rather unexpectedly. One of the earliest perennials to bloom is the Helleborus. The common names such as Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) or Christmas rose or black hellebore (Helleborus niger) might sound more familiar, but this plant will push up through the snow when it is ready to display its showy bloom. Cultivar colors range from pale green flowers, pink buds that open into white with a pale green center, red-black, yellow, white and purple.
An early ground cover that springs back quickly is Sanguinaria canadensis or bloodroot. It has a white or pink tinged bloom and come in single and double blooms. Bloodroot likes full sun in the spring but grows naturally in woodlands and needs shade in the summer. This is a great groundcover in mature landscapes with large shade producing trees.
A beautiful, dainty little bloomer is Brunnera macrophylla or False Forget-Me-Not or Siberian Bugloss. This plant’s heart-shaped leaves can be solid green or have a creamy variegation. The flower is a showy intense blue color. This can handle full sun in the spring but definitely needs a cool, moist, shady spot for summer.
You wouldn’t think that a plant with a name like Pulmonaria or lungwort would get a shout out but this is a fabulous spring flowering perennial with not just a pretty bloom but interesting and equally pretty foliage. The leaves are speckled, or dotted or splashed with white and two different colors of bloom (pink and blue) appear on the same plant. Expect the plant to fade when it gets hot, but is a plant that is easily hidden by the summer dwellers.
Bergenia cordifolia or Pig Squeak is a stunner. The leaves are thick and leathery, the stems are burgundy and hold multiple clusters of small blooms in white, red or violet. The foliage is a bonus because it stays a bronze-red color throughout the summer. Bergenia can tolerate full sun or partial shade. They need moist soil and compost.
Dicentra (Lamprocapnos) spectabilis or bleeding heart has been a favorite in the spring garden for many years. Some would remember it as an heirloom perennial because it was in Grandma’s garden. The common name may sound sad but the flower is anything but sad. It is a two-toned heart-shaped pink bloom with white tears that drip from the bottom of the bloom. The flowers bloom in glorious clusters and are pretty against the foliage. They die back in the summer but emerge again in the early spring.
There are many spring blooming shrubs but two that should be considered for early, beautiful color are Forsythia and Daphne x burkwoodii “Carol Mackie.” Forsythia blooms as early as March and pops in an early spring landscape or even against a late snow. It is very easy to grow shrub, needs a little pruning each summer to reach its potential, and likes full sun and can tolerate clay soil and some drought. Daphne blooms later in the spring but is so worth the wait. These need protection from winter winds and like to be surrounded by ground cover or mulch during the summer to keep their roots cool. Daphne is known for its intense, sweet, light fragrance when in bloom.
Cool springtime weather is when these early bloomers shine. Plant them in this year in anticipation of a colorful spring next year.
For more information about spring gardening, call the USU Extension – Tooele County office at 435-277-2407. The office is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele.