Spring flowering shrubs: an overview

Frederike
Frederike
Frederike
Frederike

I am a student of agricultural sciences and a real country kid. At home, I love tending my small vegetable garden and spending time out in nature. When not outdoors, I love to write. Beyond gardening and writing, however, I am particularly passionate about wildlife.

Favourite fruit: currants and raspberries
Favourite vegetables: salsify, savoy cabbage and potatoes

Flowers are not the only early bloomers – there is also a wide variety of spring flowering shrubs. Find out which early flowering shrubs are best for your garden here.

yellow spring flowering shrub
Early flowering shrubs provide the first splashes of colour in the garden [Photo: lightrain/ Shutterstock.com]

Spring flowers such as crocuses (Crocus) or tulips (Tulipa) usually come to mind when people think of early bloomers. Many shrubs, on the other hand, also flower early. These shrubs make use of their cold-resistant blossoms to be pollinated in the spring. Read on to find out our top 10 spring flowering shrubs, as well as which ones are particularly bee-friendly.

1. Thunberg spiraea (Spiraea thunbergii)

At just over one metre tall, Thunberg spiraea is one of the smallest shrubs to flower in the spring. Despite its size, this shrub quickly becomes a focal point in any garden when it blooms in early March, transforming into a sea of white blossoms that bees and other insects love. The spring flowering shrub bears its white flowers until May, if they do not fall victim to frost in the meantime. Although Thunberg spiraea is quite tolerant and undemanding in terms of its soil and location, it is best to plant the shrub in a sunny spot where it is protected from the elements to ensure survival of its blossoms.

spring flowering Thunberg spirea
The spring flowering Thunberg spirea turns into a sea of blossoms [Photo: backpacking/ Shutterstock.com]

2. Hazel (Corylus avellana)

The hazel, also known as the cobnut, begins to bloom in February. A close inspection of this shrub reveals two distinct types of blooms. Because hazel is monoecious, it bears both the plain female blossoms and the longer yellow male catkins, which release significant amounts of pollen, much to the chagrin of many allergy sufferers. Despite relying primarily on wind-pollination, the early flowering shrub is extremely valuable to bees, serving as one of their primary sources of pollen in the spring. With a height of three to six metres, hazel is also suitable for smaller gardens. Make sure to plant hazel in a sunny spot if you want to reap a rich harvest of hazelnuts. Also, it prefers deep, humus-rich, and moderately moist soil.

early spring flowering common hazel
It is easy to recognise common hazel because of its striking male flowers [Photo: Bo Valentino/ Shutterstock.com]

3. Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)

The katsura tree is best known for its foliage, which emits a delicious cinnamon and caramel scent in autumn. This spring flowering shrub is also a treat for the eyes in spring, when the tree is covered in delicate red blossoms. The shrub is pollinated by wind rather than insects. As a result, it is an unsuitable source of nectar for bees. Nonetheless, the katsura tree is a lovely addition to any garden, if you have enough space, as it can reach an impressive height of twelve metres.

spring flowering katsura tree
The filigree blossoms of the katsura tree are a sight to behold [Photo: Colin Michael Baker/ Shutterstock.com]

Despite its Asian origins, this spring flowering shrub will tolerate the British climate if planted in a sunny spot with nutrient-rich, deep, and fresh soil.

4. Beal’s mahonia (Mahonia bealei)

Beal’s mahonia begins showing its bright, yellow blossoms as early as February. These blooms and their pleasant fragrance can last through April, making this yellow spring shrub an eyecatcher. Not only are people impressed with the mahonia’s perfume – bees and bumblebees also love this early flowering shrub. Beal’s mahonia grows to a maximum height of two metres, making it ideal for smaller gardens. This evergreen shrub proves to be relatively hardy if planted in the right spot. Plant it in a slightly shady spot, sheltered from the elements like draughts and direct sunlight. In addition, Beal’s mahonia enjoys nutritious soil that is rich in humus and evenly moist.

yellow flowering beal’s mahonia
Beal’s mahonia is distinguished by its yellow flower clusters [Photo: Erik Agar/ Shutterstock.com]

5. White forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum)

The white forsythia blooms from March until May, when it transforms into a veritable white sea of fragrant blossoms. Not only do gardeners enjoy the white forsythia, but its nectar and abundance of blossoms are a great food source for bees. The white forsythia, with a maximum height and width of two metres, is perfect for smaller gardens. The spring-flowering white forsythia has relatively low soil requirements. However, due to its sensitivity to frost, it is best grown in a sunny, wind-sheltered spot.

small flowers of white forsythia
White forsythia has delicate, fragrant white flowers [Photo: oioioi/ Shutterstock.com]

6. Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

The star magnolia is one of the most beautiful spring flowering shrubs, with its countless white, star-shaped blooms. This densely branched shrub blooms spectacularly from March to April. Despite rarely attracting bees due to a lack of nectar in its flowers, the star magnolia is particularly appealing to beetles and other insects thanks to its high pollen content. It reaches a maximum height of three metres and has a slow growth rate, making it also well suited to smaller gardens. When given plenty of sunlight and protection from the wind, the magnolia reveals its true beauty. Because the star magnolia, like all magnolias, has a relatively sensitive root system, it is important to provide it with a good substrate. A loose, nutrient-rich, and acidic soil with even moisture levels is ideal for planting the magnolia.

many white star magnolia flowers
The star magnolia is hard to beat for beauty [Photo: Olaf Simon/ Shutterstock.com]

7. Bird cherry (Prunus padus)

The bird cherry is a giant amongst the spring flowering shrubs, reaching heights of up to 10 metres as a shrub and 15 metres as a tree. The plant, which can be grown as either a large shrub or small tree, is native to the UK and thrives in gardens where it has enough room. This early flowering shrub requires a lot of water during its young years, so water it regularly or use an irrigation system. The bird cherry enjoys moist soil and has low light requirements, letting it thrive in partial or full shade.

fragrant white flowers of bird cherry
The native bird cherry has spectactular blossoms [Photo: Olga Shum/ Shutterstock.com]

This spring shrub blooms from April to June with clusters of white blossoms that emit a rather pungent scent. The bird cherry’s fragrance attract swarms of bees, butterflies, and other insects to its pollen and nectar-rich blossoms.

8. Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

Winter jasmine is easy to recognise with its bright yellow blossoms. The shrub begins to bloom in January, or even December in mild winters, and continues well into April. Unlike other varieties, this early flowering jasmine is not fragrant, yet despite this, it attracts bees. Winter jasmine is widely grown as an insect-friendly climbing plant. It loves to climb a trellis or frame, reaching heights of up to three metres. If this hardy climber is grown without a climbing structure, it will creep and spread via side shoots along the ground.

yellow flowering winter jasmine
The winter jasmine shines with bright yellow flowers [Photo: freya-photographer/ Shutterstock.com]

Winter jasmine is very hardy plant that thrives in a sheltered sunny to semi-shady spot. These plants are not fussy about their soil.

9. Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’

If you are looking for a yellow spring flowering shrub, then look no further! Not only do the ‘Winter Sun’s’ blossoms shine a bright yellow from January to March, but its leaves also turn a reddish yellow during the autumn and winter months. Thanks to its maximum height of two metres, Mahonia x media is suited well to smaller gardens if provided with the proper conditions: shelter from the elements and partial to full shade. Winter sun thrives in nutrient and humus-rich soil. Plus, this mahonia hybrid is particularly popular with bees.

yellow flowers of mahonia x media
Mahonia x media is an early flowering evergreen shrub [Photo: Gabriela Beres/ Shutterstock.com]

10. Witch hazel (Hamamelis)

When witch hazel begins to bloom despite the snow and cold, it becomes clear where this early spring flowering shrub got its unusual name – the shrub’s yellow, orange, or red blossoms are simply bewitching. There are several different species of witch hazel, including Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) and Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica), which flower from January to March, and hybrid witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia), whose flowering time depends on its variety. The blossoms appear particularly early in the year, making them an important food source for bees and bumblebees.

Witch hazel flowers
Witch hazel looks bewitching [Photo: Ole Schoener/ Shutterstock.com]

When planting witch hazel, its location is particularly important. Witch hazel requires deep, fresh, and humus-rich soil and prefers a sheltered, sunny spot. Witch hazel also does not tolerate dry, compacted nor waterlogged soils. When choosing the right location for witch hazel, consider what it is planted next to, as it tends to be a weak competitor.

Not only do spring flowering shrubs add colourful accents to your garden – find out which plants can lift your mood with their colourful flowers during the winter months in our article on winter bloomers.

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