Grape Hyacinth

Grape hyacinth is very reliably perennial.

Are they reliably perennial or invasive? In ideal situations, old fashioned grape hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum, can get a bit too eager to proliferate and migrate. Not only do their bulbs divide efficiently, but their seed disperse beyond bulb colonies. However, bulbs do not migrate too rapidly for containment. Thorough deadheading inhibits seed dispersion.

Grape hyacinth provides some of the earliest spring bloom. Floral spikes of tiny rounded flowers do not get much more than six inches tall, but are delightfully abundant. The rich blue color is exquisite. Hybrids and other species can bloom with pale pink, pale purple, white, yellow, or various shades or tints of blue. The grassy foliage is somewhat rubbery.

If they do not migrate efficiently enough, established colonies of grape hyacinth are easy to divide in autumn. Of course, it will be necessary to mark their locations as their foliage dies back at the end of spring. Division is easier and faster than growing new plants from seed. If hybrids produce seed at all, it may not be viable. If it is, it may not be true to type.

Flowering Peach

Flowering peach flowers produce no fruit.

Since it does not produce an abundance of cumbersome fruit, flowering peach, Prunus persica, does not need the aggressive pruning while dormant through winter that fruiting peach requires, and can get significantly larger. However, tip pruning after bloom instead promotes shrubbier growth that blooms more prolifically the following spring. The fluffy double flowers are clear white, bright pink or rich pinkish red. ‘Peppermint’ flowering peach has red and white flowers, with a few flowers that are only white, and sometimes a few that are only red.

Daffodil

Bright yellow daffodil is still classic.

What is the difference between narcissus and daffodil? That is very open to interpretation. Daffodil is really only a particular type of narcissus that tends to bloom with larger and more colorful flowers that lack the rich fragrance of the smaller and commonly white flowers of other narcissus. Most daffodil bloom singly. Only a few bloom with a few flowers together. Other narcissus are outfitted with more individual flowers to each stem.

When they were buried in sunny spots last autumn, bare daffodil bulbs looked like pointed onions. They rested through much of winter so that they could be among the first flowers to bloom late in winter. The rather short and narrow bluish leaves stand vertically. The flaring flowers face outward with a bit of a downward or upward tilt. After bloom, deteriorating flowers should be plucked, but foliage should remain until it yellows and gets shed naturally.

The most familiar daffodil are bright yellow. Others can be white, various shades of orange or yellow, or a combination of these colors. Six outer petals (which are actually three petals and three sepals) radiate around a central trumpet.

Saucer Magnolia

Spring color blooms before winter ends.

Before the deciduous foliage regenerates, saucer magnolia, Magnolia X soulangeana, is already completely overwhelmed with a profusion of big pastel pink and white flowers. Some of the many cultivars bloom white, paler pink or purplish. Some are more purple than pink. Individual flowers are about six inches wide. Some cultivars bloom with globular flowers that do not open quite so broadly. Others open even wider. The largest flowers can get almost a foot wide. Eventually, fading flowers will be replaced with big and soft lime green leaves. Most saucer magnolia trees are grown with several trunks and low branches to display the bloom more prominently, as well as to display the sculptural branch structure while bare through winter. The flat bark is strikingly light gray.

Indian Hawthorn

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Indian hawthorn is an early bloomer.

Here on the West Coast of California, Indian hawthorn, Raphiolepis indica, was formerly popular as a foundation plant. The compact hollies that were used as such in the East never became very popular here. Back when rain gutters were prohibitively expensive, foundation plants diffused water as it fell from roofs. This limited erosion, and also inhibited splattering onto lower parts of walls.

Modern Indian hawthorn cultivars are now appreciated elsewhere in landscapes for profuse pink bloom in late winter or early spring. Sporadic bloom might continue through summer, with a minor secondary bloom phase in autumn. The most compact cultivars display slightly richer pink bloom, followed by mildly bronzed new foliage. At least one cultivar exhibits barely blushed white bloom.

‘Majestic Beauty’ is a cultivar that might be a hybrid with loquat. It can grow as a small tree more than ten feet high and wide. Other cultivars do not get half as big. Most get less than four feet high. They work nicely as low and plump hedges, but should be shorn after bloom. Full sun exposure and occasional irrigation should be sufficient. They are popular, because they are so undemanding.

Forsythia

00108This may seem to be three months early, or an entire season out of season; but this is when bare root forsythia, Forsythia X intermedia, gets planted. Even so, the smaller of new bare root plants will bloom with only a few flowers early in their first spring, so will not produce their famously profuse and garishly bright yellow bloom for another year and three months. They will be worth the wait.

Flowers are small but very abundant. They bloom as winter turns to spring, before there is any new foliage to interfere with their splendor. Foliage develops as bloom finishes, and if the weather is right, it might get somewhat colorful in autumn. The simple paired leaves are about two or perhaps three inches long. Big plants should stay less than ten feet tall, but can get taller if lightly shaded.

Pruning should be done after bloom rather than before, and from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Dormant pruning, although more horticulturally correct, eliminates some of the canes that would otherwise bloom in spring. After bloom, older overgrown canes that are beginning to deteriorate should be pruned to the ground to promote development of new canes to replace them.

Snowball Bush

90424Long before hydrangea blooms with its distinctively round floral trusses of abundant small flowers, the snowball bush, Viburunum opulus ‘Roseum’, shares its own unique version of similar bloom. Although the cultivar name suggests that the bloom would be pink or red, it is exclusively white. Hydrangea will bloom later, mostly in pink or red, with some in blue or lavender, and a few in white.

The snowball blooms of snowball bush are about thee inches wide, so are smaller than those of hydrangea, and do not last quite as long. They bloom early in spring, without subsequent bloom. The two or three inch long deciduous leaves might turn surprisingly vivid orange and red before defoliating in autumn. Mature specimens easily get taller than ten feet, and might reach fifteen feet.

Snowball bush eventually develops a relaxed and unrefined style that fits nicely into woodsy landscapes. Autumn foliar color is better with full sun exposure, but a bit of partial shades promotes a slightly more open branch structure that displays the spring bloom better. Pruning should be done after bloom. Snowball bush prefers somewhat regular watering and rich soil, but is not too finicky.

Ranunculus

90403Their little tufts of tuberous roots that were buried late last year were not much to look at. They were more like bits of dried and shriveled sea anemone than something that would grow and bloom with fluffy anemone like flowers. Ranunculus do not bloom as prolifically as related anemones, but they do so with different colors and bulkier flowers that seem crowded with too many thin petals.

Ranunculus like what so many flowering annuals like. They want rich soil, regular watering, full sun exposure, and perhaps a bit of fertilizer. They start blooming early in spring, and can continue blooming with multiple flowers a bit longer than other early spring bulbs that bloom only once. They finish bloom as the weather gets warm, and their handsome parsley like foliage starts to yellow.

Ranunculus are probably best mixed with other perennials and annuals that will compensate for them as they go dormant later in spring. They can alternatively be grown in a cutting garden just for cut flowers. Mature plants are less than a foot tall and wide, even if the flowers stand slightly taller. The full and symmetrical flowers can be various hues of white, pink, red, orange, yellow or purple.

Daffodil

90213Even with all the unusual breeds of daffodil and related narcissus that are available nowadays, the traditional big yellow types that resemble the classic ‘King Alfred’ daffodil are probably still the most popular, even if real ‘King Alfred’ are unavailable. Although all narcissus are daffodils, the term ‘daffodil’ typically refers to those with fewer but bigger and bolder flowers that lack fragrance.

Their dormant bulbs got planted last autumn to wait out winter and then bloom along with the earliest of spring blooming bulbs. They can be planted in later phases to prolong bloom, but once they naturalize, will bloom annually and early on a rather reliable schedule. Most types are pleased to naturalize if conditions are right for them, although some of the fancier varieties are less reliable.

Besides the familiar bright yellow, daffodils can be pale yellow, cream, white, orange or pink, although orange and pink are mostly in conjunction with other colors. Some varieties bloom with double flowers, or other varied forms. Taller types can stand a foot and a half tall, with the flowers suspended just above the narrow, mostly vertical and somewhat rubbery bluish green leaves.

Flowering Dogwood

80502Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, seems like it should be more popular here than it is. It blooms spectacularly in April. The foliage can color nicely in autumn. Mature trees are proportionate to medium sized or smaller suburban gardens. However, the limiting factor to their popularity in the local climate is that they are understory trees that prefer to be in the partial shade of larger trees.

They certainly do not need to be shaded all day. Nearby trees or tall buildings that shelter them during the hottest part of the afternoon might be sufficient. Foliage that is too exposed gets roasted by hot sunshine or drying breezes while the weather is warm, especially if exposure is enhanced by glare from nearby walls or pavement. Otherwise, flowering dogwood is not overly demanding.

The abundant white, pink or rarely brick red bloom is actually comprised of modified colorful leaves known as bracts. Each cluster of tiny green flowers is surrounded by four upward facing bracts. Simple paired deciduous leaves develop after bloom. The leaves of some cultivars are variegated with white or yellow. Mature trees can reach upstairs eaves but typically stay lower and broader.