Perennial Plants for Winter and Spring

The bold colors and leaves on these perennials will take you from the chill of winter to the sunshine of spring.

By: and

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Image courtesy of

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: National Garden Bureau/Floragran

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Hellebore

Hellebores are tough little plants that can shake off ice and snow to flower from late winter to early spring. Hardy in zones 6-9, they prefer a shady garden spot, and once they're established, they're drought tolerant. Try them with other shade-lovers, such as ferns, hostas and campanulas. Hellebores are sometimes called Lenten roses, because they bloom around the Lent season.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria)

Too bad pulmonaria has an unappealing common name: lungwort. The plants have attractive green foliage with silver or white markings and blooms that appear in early spring. The small flowers last a long time, gradually changing colors from pink to shades of purple, blue, red or even white. 'Raspberry Splash,' pictured here, has excellent disease resistance; try underplanting it with shrubs, hostas or ferns. Lungwort prefers part shade and moist, well-draining soil. Deer and rabbits tend to leave the plants alone.

Brunnera

Sometimes called Siberian bugloss or false forget-me-nots, are shade-loving plants with blue flowers (this variety is 'Henry's Eyes'). These perennials open in early spring and make great companions for hostas, pink and white bleeding hearts, early tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs. Grow your plants in fertile, moist soil, and don't let them dry out.

Saxifraga

Your rock garden needs this spreading perennial, which blooms its heart out in early spring. , or rock foil, also forms mounds of color in an alpine garden, container, or at the front of borders. 'Touran Mix,' shown here, comes in red, pink, rose and white. Give your plants part shade and rich soil; they're winter hardy in zones 5-7.

Bergenia

Like brunnera, bergenias are great for brightening up shady spots in your garden. Their small blooms are charming in a woodland setting, border or cottage garden, and the plants can be grown as a groundcover. Give them moist, rich soil and shade to partial shade, and they’ll bloom in spring. By fall, some of the leaves will turn brown, while others will become purplish-bronze. Remove the dead foliage, but let the others remain over the winter. Bergenia is hardy in zones 3-9. This variety is 'Pink Dragon'.

Primrose (Primula)

Look for the colorful blooms of in early spring. Primula polyanthus are perennials in zones 3-8 but dislike heat, so they're typically grown as annuals in areas with hot, dry summers. Give these little gems light shade and well-drained soil, and try them in containers or a woodland setting. If their leaves turn yellow, it may mean they’re getting too much direct sun, or you’re overwatering.

Candytuft

Candytuft often attracts butterflies with its spring blooms, which can last for weeks. Give your plants a spot in full sun, and avoid heavy soils that stay wet during the winter. The plants grow about 6-12" tall and spread slowly to make a pretty groundcover (but don't walk on them, which would crush them). Use this evergreen as a border or in a rock garden, or let it spill over a wall or the sides of a windowbox. After the flowers die, give the plants, which are hardy in zones 5-9, a light shearing to keep them bushy. , shown here, has lavender flowers.

Cyclamen

Cyclamen are native to the eastern Mediterranean, so cool spring temperatures bring out their blooms. After the flowers fade, the leaves turn yellow and the plants go dormant. That's when many of us, thinking they're dead, throw our plants away. The tubers are actually resting and need only enough water to keep them from completely drying out until new growth appears. Cyclamen tolerate sun or partial shade but need protection from the hot afternoon sun. This variety, 'Victoria Deco Mix’ is from the Metis mini-series. It's notable for its dark green leaves, marbled with silver, and its unusual crowned flowers.

Viola 'Etain'

Need a sweet perennial to tuck into a rock garden, woodland nook, bed or border? 'Etain’ is a spring bloomer that thrives in full sun in regions where the summers are cool. If you live where the summers are hot, give it partial shade and a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and keep the soil temperature down. Hardy in zones 4-8, 'Etain' should be deadheaded to keep the flowers coming. If your plants get leggy, cut them back by about half after the flowers fade.

Tradescantia

You may know Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate’ as spiderwort. Hardy in zones 4-9, this perennial bears deep blue/purple flowers, takes full sun to partial shade and needs just average watering. Even when it’s not in bloom, the arching, yellow-green foliage makes it attractive. Deer tend to leave the plants alone, so you can use 'Sweet Kate' in naturalized areas, rock gardens, borders and open woodlands, or on the moist banks of streams and ponds.

Mixed Bulbs

Plant bulbs with staggered bloom times, and you’ll have a flower show from early spring into summer. Siberian squills open in late February in very warm regions, and reticulated irises add pops of blue in spring. Crocus are also “early risers,” but you’ll want to plant handfuls of them for the best display. Narcissus and tulips also make a lovely spring display. Tulips aren't known for being especially long-lived, so try early varieties that come back reliably, such as ‘Olympic Flame’ and ‘Flaming Parrot'.

Daffodils

No other flowers say "spring" like sunny daffodils. Plant your bulbs, pointed ends up, in the fall. If you choose varieties that bloom in early, middle and late spring, you’ll have flowers to enjoy in the garden for weeks and enough to cut for bouquets. For early color, grow 'February Gold,’ 'Peeping Tom’ or 'Dutch Master.’ Daffs will naturalize in moist soils that drain easily and like sunny to partly sunny spots. Just don’t remove the foliage until it dies naturally. The bulbs need it to store up energy for the next year.

Coreopsis

Some gardeners know this cheery, daisy-like perennial as tickweed. While many coreopsis die out after two or three years in the garden, some will self-seed. (There are also annual types.) Coreopsis are tough enough to endure heat, drought and humidity. They’re not fussy about soil and stay in bloom for a long time, attracting bees and butterflies. Grow your plants in full sun and, in the summer, cut them back by about one-third to keep the blooms coming.

Dianthus

Every cottage garden needs a carpet of pinks, or dianthus. There are annual, short-lived perennial and biennial varieties, some of which have a spicy scent like their carnation relatives. Perennial pinks, which are hardy in zones 4-8, start flowering in cool weather and often keep going until the summer heat sets in. These drought-tolerant beauties form dense mats topped by ruffled flowers. Try dianthus in mixed containers, at the front of beds, along walkways or planted in drifts in the garden.

Woodland Phlox

Hummingbirds and butterflies love Phlox divaricata, better known as wild sweet William or woodland phlox. This native perennial has rose-pink, lavender or violet-blue flowers that open in spring. It naturalizes easily and makes a great groundcover in partly shade to fully shaded areas. Give the plants medium water (although they can tolerate some drought in dry spells). They're adaptable, able to grow even in clay-like soils. Since the plants have shallow roots, you can plant them over and around early spring bulbs.

Bleeding Heart

Old-fashioned have arching stems of heart-shaped flowers that open in spring. They're especially pretty in a partly shaded, woodland garden, but the plants can take more sun if the soil stays moist. When the flowers finish, the foliage dies down and the plants go dormant for the summer, but you can use ferns, campanula, and other shade-loving perennials or annuals to fill in any bare spots.

Creeping Phlox

Like woodland phlox, creeping phlox, or Phlox subulata, makes a colorful carpet for your garden or landscape. It’s also great to use as a cascading plant, in a bed or border, on a slope, or between pavers. Creeping phlox grows in almost any kind of soil that drains easily, and it takes full sun to partial shade, although more sun usually produces more flowers. When you place your plants in the soil, keep them at the same depth they were in their nursery pots. Planting too deeply can lead to rotting.

Blue Star

Amsonia, or blue star, opens its star-shaped blooms in spring. After the flowers are finished, the foliage puts on a show in autumn, turning yellow to yellow-gold. The plants can take full sun if the soil stays consistently moist; otherwise, give them a lightly shaded spot. This easy-to-grow perennial adapts to many different kinds of soils, resists deer and tolerates drought. Plant it in drifts, or use it as a fall companion for mums and other flowers and shrubs with brilliant fall colors.

Wild Violets

Weeds or wildflowers? Wild violets can drive you crazy if you like a manicured lawn. These perennials, which are native to parts of the U.S., have a dense root system that makes them hard to dig up or pull, and they spread aggressively. But if grass isn’t a concern, the pretty blooms, which pop up in late winter and early spring, help brighten shady spots where the soil is moist and fertile.

White Flag Iris

Also known as cemetery iris, white flag iris (Iris albicans) is a wonderful perennial that blooms a month earlier than other bearded irises. This heirloom plant, which thrives almost anywhere except in deep shade, hails from Texas and probably made its way to the New World from North Africa and the Middle East, where it was originally planted on graves. Give the plants plenty of sun. They don’t need much water after they’re established.

Lewisia

' pictured here, won a Fleuroselect Gold Medal award for excellence in 2018. This new variety is said to flower for up to five months after sowing, or until the first frost. It can overwinter if given protection from too much wet weather; otherwise, it may behave like an annual in some gardens. Lewisia species are easy to grow in very well-drained soil and full sun to part shade.

Lily of the Valley

Pretty but poisonous: don't plant lily of the valley pips (rhizomes) if you have small children or pets around. Experts also recommend wearing gloves when you handle any part of the plants, so you don’t transfer anything harmful to your food or body. But if you can grow these spring bloomers, you'll enjoy the nodding flowers, which have a sweet fragrance. Convallaria majalis is best grown in cool climates, and dislikes hot, humid summers. While it prefers partial shade and moist soil, it can adapt to dry conditions and sun. The plants spread easily, but beware. They're considered .

Red Columbine

Hummingbirds can’t resist the nectar-rich flowers of Aquilegia Formosa or red columbine. This woodland perennial blooms in spring and grows wild in parts of the western U.S. Don’t plant it in rich soil, which can encourage weak, weedy-looking growth. Red columbines thrive in rocky soils, even when they're dry and low in nutrients. The plants self-sow, and seedlings can be transplanted to another part of your garden the following spring. It’s also easy to collect ripened seeds from the faded flowers. Just keep them dry and cool until you’re ready to plant.

Trillium Ovatum

From late winter to spring, trilliums emerge to brighten gardens and the forest floor. There are about 40 species of these native perennials, but if you find them in nature, resist the urge to take them home. Some are endangered and protected by federal and/or state laws. Buy from a reputable source instead, and keep the plants happy by growing them in rich, moist, well-drained soil that gets full to partial shade. Trillium ovatum, shown here, is a gorgeous plant for parts of the western U.S. Before you buy, make sure your selections are rated for your hardiness zone.

Peony

Just imagine—peonies can live longer than the gardeners who grow them; some have been around for 50 to 100 years. These spring bloomers need cold temperatures during the winter to set their buds, and fertile, moist soil that drains easily. If you live in a northern climate, plant your peonies in full sun. If you live in a southern or western state where the summers are hot, plant in partial shade or choose an early-flowering variety. With its big, bubblegum-pink blooms, 'Sarah Bernhardt' is one of several very early-blooming peonies.