Rhododendron 'Golden Torch'

Best Choice Of Shrubs To Give You Spring Colour In The Garden

Rhododendron 'Golden Torch'

Plant spring flowering shrubs for colour and scent

After a dull, dreary, cold, wet winter what could be more uplifting than the sight of the first blossoms of spring that can send the heart and soul soaring. Colour is not just restricted to spring bulbs there are quite a few shrubs which flower early, and some have the added bonus of scent. Wandering around the spring garden with a cup of coffee in hand drinking in the sweet scent of these shrubs must surely be one of life’s delights.

Azalea

Once these and the rhododendrons start flowering you know the warmer days and lighter nights are just around the corner. The evergreens tend to be smaller and more compact than the deciduous varieties so are ideal if space is at a premium. Some of the deciduous varieties are also heavenly scented; for a taste of their magnificence take a trip to Muncaster Castle on the west coast of Cumbria when they are in full flower.

  • Shrub, evergreen and deciduous
  • Plant: October – May, if soil conditions are right
  • Flower: March – May
  • Flower colour: vast array of colours
  • Soil: acid, well drained, moist
  • Where to plant: evergreen - containers, shrubbery; deciduous -  woodland garden, shrubbery, containers
  • How to plant: dig in some ericaceous compost before planting; if planting in a container use ericaceous compost
  • Food and water: keep well watered in summer otherwise it will drop the buds and won’t flower the following year; feed with ericaceous fertiliser after flowering to help make the flower buds for the following year
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 0.5m – 7.5m (20”  - 25’) dependent upon variety
  • Tips: evergreen azaleas are usually much smaller than the deciduous and more suitable for growing in containers

Azalea 'Madame Galle'

Azalea 'Madame Galle'

Camellia

These need the same conditions as rhododendrons and azaleas and like the aforementioned need to be kept damp in the summer and autumn otherwise if they dry out they will lose their buds and not flower the following spring.

  • Shrub or small tree, evergreen
  • Plant: October – May, if soil conditions are right
  • Flower: January – May
  • Flower colour: pink, white, red
  • Soil: acid, well drained, moist
  • Where to plant: containers (suitable for smaller varieties); shrubbery; woodland garden
  • How to plant: dig in some ericaceous compost before planting; if planting in a container use ericaceous compost
  • Food and water: keep well watered in summer otherwise it will drop the buds and won’t flower the following year; feed with ericaceous fertiliser after flowering to help make the flower buds for the following year
  • Aspect: partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy, some of the rarer species are tender
  • Height and spread: up to 9m (30’) depending on variety
  • Tips: they are woodland plants so will benefit from growing with other trees and shrubs; mulch in spring

Camellia 'Adolph Audusson'

Camellia 'Adolph Audusson'

Chimonanthus praecox (Wintersweet)

This deliciously scented shrub is best planted where its perfume can be appreciated in winter. For most of the year it is unremarkable so can be planted in an herbaceous border where a small clematis can scramble through its branches.

  • Shrub, deciduous
  • Plant: spring, after flowering
  • Flower: winter/early spring
  • Flower colour: pale yellow
  • Soil: any; deep; well drained; moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: shrubbery; stand-alone specimen; herbaceous border
  • How to plant: dig in plenty of organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: water well in the first year until it becomes established; keep watered as hates being dry or waterlogged; feed with a balanced fertiliser in spring
  • Aspect: south facing; sunny; sheltered from wind
  • Hardiness: may need protection in northern areas of the UK
  • Height and spread: 4 x 2m (13 x 6.5’)
  • Tips: young plants can take 12 years to flower

Daphne

These slow growing shrubs can be suitable for the rockery or the herbaceous border but need to be planted somewhere you can appreciate their scent.  

  • Shrub, alpine, evergreen and deciduous
  • Plant: October – May, if soil conditions are right
  • Flower: winter – spring
  • Flower colour: pink, white
  • Soil: neutral – alkaline; well drained; moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: shrubbery; rockery
  • How to plant: dig in plenty of organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: water well in the first year until it becomes established; keep watered as hates being dry or waterlogged
  • Aspect: alpines – sun; shrubs – sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: from fully hardy to semi-hardy depending upon variety, some won’t tolerate frost
  • Height and spread: varies from 10cm (4”) to 180cms (6’)
  • Tips: once established they don’t like being moved; flowers usually scented

Daphne 'Eternal Fragrance'

Daphne 'Eternal Fragrance'

Forsythia x intermedia

For a sheer blast of sunshine you can’t do much better than this forsythia; easy to grow and very forgiving so ideal for the beginner. Just make sure you give it plenty of space as it does eventually make a large shrub.

  • Shrub, deciduous
  • Plant: autumn – spring, if soil conditions are right
  • Flower: spring
  • Flower colour: yellow
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: shrubbery; hedge
  • How to plant: dig in plenty of organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: water well in the first year until it becomes established; keep soil damp; feed with balanced fertiliser after flowering
  • Aspect: sun; partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 2.5 x 2.5m (8 x 8’)
  • Tips: ‘Lynwood Gold’ is one of the best varieties for a huge burst of colour in spring

Hamamelis x intermedia (Witch Hazel)

The scent can be magnified on a cold day by cupping the flower with your hands and letting it warm a little.

  • Shrub, deciduous
  • Plant: autumn - spring
  • Flower: spring
  • Flower colour: yellow, orange, red
  • Soil: acid to neutral, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: shrubbery
  • How to plant: dig in plenty of organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: water well in the first year until it becomes established; keep soil damp; feed with balanced fertiliser after flowering
  • Aspect: sun; partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 4 x 4m (13 x 13’)
  • Tips: most flowers are fragrant so plant somewhere you can appreciate the scent

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'

Magnolia

If you only have a small garden Magnolia stellata would be ideal as it usually only reaches a height of 3m (10’) and has beautiful star-like white flowers. The larger flowered varieties need a fairly large space as they can reach a height of 10m (33’).

  • Shrub or small tree, evergreen and deciduous
  • Plant: autumn – spring, if soil conditions are right
  • Flower: spring – early summer
  • Flower colour: white, light and dark pink, blackcurrant, lemon
  • Soil: acid to neutral, well drained, moist
  • Where to plant: in a large border; as a stand-alone specimen; needs sheltered site
  • How to plant: dig in plenty of organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: water well the first year until it becomes established; keep well watered in summer otherwise it will drop the buds and won’t flower the following year; feed with tree and shrub fertiliser in spring
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: some varieties not fully hardy, and some tender
  • Height and spread: 2 – 15m (6.5 – 50’) x 3 – 10m (10 – 33’)
  • Tips: best grown against a wall for shelter; buds are very susceptible to frost damage so will need protection if frost is forecast; shallow rooted so make sure you don’t disturb the soil around the tree, with a mature tree the roots can extend further than the canopy

Pieris japonica

These shrubs give good year-round colour even when the fresh spring growth has gone over. If space is limited try ‘Little Heath’ which has lovely cream/green variegated foliage and only grows very slowly.  

  • Shrub, evergreen
  • Plant: autumn – spring, if soil conditions are right
  • Flower: spring
  • Flower colour: creamy white, pink
  • Soil: acid, well drained, moist
  • Where to plant: shrubbery; container
  • How to plant: dig in some ericaceous compost before planting; if planting in a container use ericaceous compost
  • Food and water: water well the first year until it becomes established; keep damp; feed with an ericaceous fertiliser in early spring
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 0.5m – 4m (20” - 13’6”) dependent upon variety
  • Tips: grown mainly for the red coloured new growth in spring, tender new growth may need protection if a hard frost is forecast; keep well watered

Pieris japonica 'Flaming Silver'

Pieris japonica 'Flaming Silver'

Rhododendron

These can vary in size from the massive species, which will reach the height of a medium tree, to the smaller, slow growing Yakushimanum varieties so make sure you buy the right one for your garden.

  • Shrub, evergreen
  • Plant: October – May, if soil conditions are right
  • Flower: March – May
  • Flower colour: vast array of colours
  • Soil: acid, well drained, moist
  • Where to plant: woodland garden; shrubbery; containers
  • How to plant: dig in some ericaceous compost before planting; if planting in a container use ericaceous compost;
  • Food and water: water well the first year until it becomes established; keep well watered in summer otherwise it will drop the buds and won’t flower the following year; feed with ericaceous fertiliser after flowering to help make the flower buds for the following year
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 0.5m – 7.5m (20”  - 25’) dependent upon variety
  • Tips: chose a smaller variety, such as the Yakushimanum range which remain fairly compact and are slow growing, for growing in containers

Rhododendron 'Nancy Evans'

Rhododendron 'Nancy Evans'

Viburnum

This versatile shrub can provide flower colour throughout almost every month of the year. Just make sure when you buy one that it is suitable for the particular situation in your garden as some are quite large and others prostrate.

  • Shrub, small tree; deciduous or evergreen
  • Plant: October – May, if soil conditions are right
  • Flower: April – May
  • Flower colour: white, pink
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: woodland garden; wildlife hedge; shrubbery
  • How to plant: dig in some organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: water well the first year until it becomes established; keep damp; feed in spring with a tree and shrub fertiliser
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade, shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 1 – 4m (40” – 13’)
  • Tips: plant the native Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) as part of a wildlife garden or hedge as it produces masses of red berries which the birds love; many varieties produce red, blue or black berries in autumn; flowers often fragrant

Viburnum tinus 'Lisa Rose'

Viburnum tinus 'Lisa Rose'

If you want more information on what to plant for spring interest just get in touch with our gardening team here in the Outdoor Plant department.

Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer so always used to producing something from the earth, whether it was animals or garden produce. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I also keep a few hens and grow vegetables for my own personal use. I gained a BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management. As a result of this I have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening.