Flowering Shrub

Denny Schrock

early spring flowering shrubs

Flashy golden forsythias and splashy pink saucer magnolia take center stage in many early spring landscapes. But these leading ladies aren’t the only shrubs that can make an impact in your yard at this time of year. Many other woody plants are worthwhile additions for their vernal display of showy blooms. If you’re looking for something a little more unique, consider one of the beauties shown below.

Hybrid witch hazel (Hamemelis X intermedia) kicks off the spring season with its straplike gold or copper petals, usually blooming in February.

White forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum roseum), also called Korean abelialeaf, is neither a forsythia nor an abelia, although it has qualities resembling those shrubs. It precedes the yellow blooms of true forsythia by a week or more.

Double Take 'Pink Storm' flowering quince (Chaenomeles Double Take 'Pink Storm') bears clusters of rosy pink blooms backed by glossy clear green foliage.

Flowering almond (Prunus glandulosa 'Rosea Plena') grows just 4 feet tall and in spring is covered with fully double pink blooms.

Regent serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia 'Regent') is a season-long beauty. The white spring flowers are followed by tasty purple-blue fruits, and the leaves turn gold, orange, and red in fall.

Denny Schrock

forced smiles

By late February nearly everyone is ready for spring to arrive. Cloudy, gloomy days bring a yearning for the bright colors and happy thoughts of spring. You can speed the process along by forcing flowering branches indoors. Even in a mild winter such as this one, by now most spring-flowering shrubs have received enough hours of cold to break dormancy once warm temperatures arrive. You can trick them into blooming early by cutting stems with plump buds (flower buds are thicker and rounder than leaf buds), and taking them into the warmth of your home.

The pink double blooms of flowering cherry pair with a rosy ranunculus in this spring bouquet.

Prune off pencil-width stems full of buds. Plunge the base of cut stems into warm water after stripping buds from the portion of the stem that will be under water. Keep the cut twigs at room temperature or slightly cooler to force them into flower. Change the water twice per week to keep it fresh. Within a few days to several weeks, depending on the time of winter and species of flowering shrub, your spring-in-a-vase will burst into bloom–an event that’s sure to bring smiles to the faces of those who see it.

Trees and shrubs that bloom earliest outdoors are the easiest and fastest to force indoors. Forsythia, flowering quince, redbud, pussy willow, and serviceberry are good choices for first-time forcers. But crabapple, lilac, and kousa dogwood will work, too. They just take a little longer.

This year I’m getting a jump on spring by forcing forsythia branches. The shrub needed pruning anyway. Rather than tossing the branches in the woodchip pile, I decided to enjoy them in flower first. I’m having fun watching the progression of swelling buds, and can hardly wait for the first bud to burst into full flower.


Combine Tete-a-Tete daffodils with pussy willow branches for an instant spring garden.

The bright yellow blooms of forsythia are some of the easiest to force into bloom.

For an Asian influence, back a windswept flowering quince branch with a bamboo screen.

The pink or white blooms of a forced crabapple add a delightful fragrance to any indoor setting.

Denny Schrock

easy shrubs

Exochorda 'Blizzard' Snow Day Blizzard

Are you looking for a spring-blooming shrub other than forsythia, spirea, or lilac? There’s nothing wrong with these standbys, but as a plant geek, I like more variety in my landscape.

Consider pearl-bush (left), a relatively uncommon shrub that’s been around a long time. However, it’s recently been updated. This mid-spring bloomer begins with creamy white pearl-like buds which open to a spectacular show of pure white blooms. In addition to Snow Day Blizzard, which grows to 5 or 6 feet tall, Proven Winners ColorChoice shrubs also offers ‘Niagara’ Snow Day Surprise, which tops out at 3 to 4 feet tall, making it an excellent choice for smaller yards. Both grow in full sun to part shade in Zones 4-8. The shrubs that Proven Winners sent me to trial have performed beautifully. The flowering display that you see in the photo is after just one year in the ground.

Red-veined enkianthus (below) is more subtle in the spring landscape. Its pink bell-shape blooms sport red veins and hang in clusters. The shrub more than makes up for subdued spring color with fiery orange, red, and yellow fall foliage. Grow enkianthus in part shade to full sun in moist, well-drained, acidic soil. It is hardy in Zones 5-7. This shrub, which I received from Bailey Nurseries, is also in its first year.

Enkianthus campanulatus, red-veined enkianthus

Justin W. Hancock

Hungry for Hydrangeas?

Has the hydrangea become America’s favorite flower? I’m starting to wonder if it’s knocked roses right off the throne.

Growing hydrangeas is one of the most common topics in Garden Doctor, our free question-and-answer service.

And I’ve been seeing more and more dried hydrangea flowers in crafting projects (especially at Christmas; I saw one tree decorated with gorgeous dried hydrangea blooms), and there are more new, innovative hydrangea varieties released every year. Two standouts this year are ‘Bombshell’, which only gets 3-4 feet tall and wide, and ‘Little Lime’, a dwarf version of the incredibly popular ‘Limelight’.

It seems like I’m also seeing some garden centers cutting back on roses and adding more hydrangeas to their lineups.

And, hydrangeas don’t have thorns — making them so much easier to work around in the garden.

So what do you think? Are you hungry for more information/pictures/projects with hydrangeas from Better Homes and Gardens?

Denny Schrock

colorful camellias

Last week I was in Southern California surrounded by hundreds of blooming camellias at Descanso Gardens and the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Here are just a dozen of them. Which is your favorite?

Camellia japonica 'Commander Mulroy'

Camellia japonica 'Haku-Tsuru'

Camellia japonica 'Lady Clare'

Camellia japonica 'Little Susie'

Camellia japonica 'Margaret Davis'

Camellia japonica 'Margaret Walker'

Camellia japonica 'May Ingram'

Camellia japonica 'Royal Velvet'

Camellia japonica 'Silver Chalice'

Camellia japonica 'Yours Truly'

Camellia X 'Fire Chief'

Camellia X 'Senritsu-Ko'

Justin W. Hancock

Indoor Pleasures

CamelliaIt’s no secret that I’m kind of a fanatic about plants. Take me on a garden tour and I can do it all day…then get up and happily, go see more. At horticultural trade shows, I’ve been known to skip breakfast, lunch, and even dinner so I’d have time to see more of the plants and displays. And you can tell from the number of plants in my home.

A cool one is my camellia — an evergreen shrub with gorgeous pink flowers. It always blooms around the holidays for me. Other than giving it water and occasionally fertilizing it, that’s all the care it requires.

It’s a great example that if you want to have houseplants, you don’t need to be limited to everyday varieties like English ivy, pothos, or philodendron (not that there’s anything wrong with them; I grow those, as well!).

As long as you have a bright window or fluorescent lights and don’t mind watering your plants regularly, there’s a wealth of cool plants you can try, including a lot of things we don’t usually think of as indoor plants. Growing them may be easier than you think!

I’ve met a lot of gardeners who are afraid of growing plants inside, but really, you have nothing to lose. And if you live in a cold-winter climate like I do, there’s a lot to gain — both from the psychological effect of having something green and living when everything outside is cold and dormant and the physical health benefits (plants absorb harmful toxins from the air and also add welcome moisture to dry indoor air).

So give it a try! I’d love to hear what houseplants you grow!