Winter is a great time for planning and preparing with colorful catalogs and notes on last year’s successes and failures. But as the days get longer and the sun’s rays intensify and warm the earth, we know that spring is not far off. Although most of our gardens are still sound asleep, a few horticultural insomniacs are already hard at work. Here are a few of our favorite early-blooming trees and shrubs.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘cvs.’
The flowers of witch hazel are a bright rusty red-orange and the spidery petals unfurl themselves as early as February. The shrubs can grow relatively large (12 to 15 feet in both height and width) but could be trained into a small, multi-stemmed tree if desired. It prefers dappled shade with average garden soil, but will also prosper in full sun.
Acer rubrum ‘cvs.’
Although known as a large shade tree with vibrant fall color, the bright red flowers of red maples make them beautiful trees in the spring as well. The flowers emerge in March, before the leaves and remain showy until the foliage hides them. Red maples grow 40 feet high and 30 feet wide and require rich, well-drained soil.
Cornelian Cherry Dogwood
The platy, peeling bark on this large shrub or small tree provides winter interest, but as the winter ends, the flower buds burst open with golden yellow flowers. Site this plant in front of a dark backdrop of evergreens for maximum effect. Height is 20 feet; width is 15 feet. It prefers full sun and tolerates a wide range of soil types.
Buxus x ‘cvs.’
We generally don’t think of boxwood for their flowers because the evergreen foliage keeps them hidden. However, if you follow your nose, you will be pleasantly surprised by the sweet fragrance wafting on the breeze. Use boxwoods in mixed perennial borders, foundation plantings, or formal clipped hedges. Grows 3 feet high and wide.
Dawn Fragrant Viburnum
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’
Many viburnums offer wonderful fragrance, but Dawn is the earliest. The scent is musky sweet and the flowers are a soft pink blush. Checking in at 8 feet high and wide, it is best planted at the back of the border in average soil with other sun-loving shrubs and perennials in front.