Early Flowers Sing of Spring

The weather is getting a bit warmer, the days are getting a bit longer, and the much anticipated spring blooms are beginning to appear. Finally! Below are some early bloomers you might already be seeing as you stroll through your community.  

For those that were able to plant some bulbs last fall – the crocus, daffodils, and tulips are beginning to emerge.  These blooms are some of the first welcome harbingers of a delightful time of year.

The highly anticipated Virginia Bluebells and trilliums may be visible in our local parks such as the Manassas Battlefield or Merrimac Farms.  Did you know that the Virginia Bluebell is the official flower of Prince William County? It is, and its blooms only last a few weeks – so get out and enjoy them while you can.    

Are you noticing small trees or bushes beginning to bud around you? Forsythia and Eastern redbud blooms are among the first to burst into glory.  You may even have observed the state tree of Virginia – the flowering dogwood – that’s just beginning to pop.

Among the larger trees that are starting to unfold are the flowering cherry (similar to those around the Tidal Basin in D.C.) and the Serviceberry tree.  How delightful these beautiful blooms are. Our souls rejoice as evidence of a new growing season blossoms before our eyes.

Preparing your garden for its first blooms

Besides enjoying the first signs of spring around town, there are things every homeowner can do at this time of year to help their plants all year long.  First, make a survey of your yard. Are there places you would like to create new planting beds? Are there problem areas you need to address such as overgrown trees right next to your home?  Let’s address these topics one at a time.

As you survey your yard, you may decide to eliminate some of the turf and create a new planting bed.  To do so, outline the area you’ve designated with a hose. With a shovel or a pickaxe, make a wedge border following the shape of the hose.  Now you have the outline of your new planting bed. You don’t need to dig up and haul away all the grass inside the planting bed – just use your shovel to turn the grass over.  Add about 4 inches of compost and top soil. If possible, let the new space wait a few weeks before planting anything. Chose plants native to Virginia to fill your new planting bed.  Over the past few years we’ve begun to realize the tremendous environmental benefit of planting natives. A few hardy native perennial flowers are coneflowers, garden phlox, or bee balm for sunny areas.  For shade, try native bleeding heart, ragwort, or native ferns. Some excellent native shrub choices are chokeberry, winterberry holly, and the 2019 Virginia Native Plant Society plant of the year – New Jersey Tea bush.  The Virginia Native Plant Society (https://vnps.org/) has free information and photos of native plants you can incorporate into your yard.  And don’t forget – a nice benefit of native plants is that they have already adapted to Virginia soils, so they’ll be more successful and require less maintenance.

A walk through your neighborhood or community can probably provide a few examples of trees that were originally planted too close to homes and driveways.  A Southern Magnolia that looks perfect on the corner of your house when it’s 6 feet tall is going to look completely out of place once it reaches 40 feet tall and 20 feet wide.  If you do have a large tree that is touching your house, you might need to remove it. Large branches hitting your siding or roof can cause damage. Leaves and small branches can clog gutters and cause water damage.  If you really love the tree, contact a local certified Arborist at www.tressaregood.org to see if it can be heavily trimmed and saved.  If the tree must be removed, replace it with a flowering shrub like Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) that will add interest to your landscaping.  You may have heard this common gardener mantra “right plant – right place,” which simply means that if you don’t have the right space for a plant, then you’re wasting your time and money.  

My last piece of advice as you take inventory of your yard this spring, is to enjoy your garden.  Delight in the signs of new growth. Appreciate the slightly warmer temperature and the slightly longer days.  Focus on the pleasant thought that winter has passed and the delightful summer flowers will soon be on the rise.  

Janene Cullen, PhD
About Janene Cullen, PhD 2 Articles
Janene Cullen has lived in Haymarket for 16 years. As a retired military officer, this is the longest she has ever lived in one location. She works full time for the Aerospace Corporation as a satellite engineer. She has been a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer since 2006 and volunteers with the Master Gardeners of Prince William.

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