Just about everyone’s spirits soar when they see flowers blooming after a long, cold winter. Springtime blossoms are a feast for the eyes and the heart alike, filling the landscape with gorgeous hues and intoxicating fragrances.
Sometimes you need to plan ahead if you want heaps of spring color.
The 20 species listed below need to be planted in the fall so their root systems can establish over the colder months. Then, as soon as the snow melts, they’ll add stunning bursts of spring color to your garden or patio containers.
1. Crocuses (Crocus spp.): Zones 3-8
Few sights are as beautiful as crocuses springing up through the snow in late winter or early spring.
If you’re fond of multi-purpose plants for your garden or homestead, consider growing the Crocus sativus cultivar. This is the saffron crocus, cultivated for its fragrant, delicious floral stigmas, which are treasured as a culinary spice.
Plant your crocus corms in September or October in well-drained soil that’s been amended with compost. Aim to plant them four inches deep and four inches apart.
If you’re aiming for as much spring color as possible, choose purple, pink, blue, or yellow crocuses rather than mixed bags that may contain white crocuses as well. Those white blooms will camouflage against the snow rather than contrast with it.
2. Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.): Zones 3-9
Not only are daylilies wonderful for vibrant spring color splashes in various hues—they’re also edible! This makes them ideal for multi-purpose gardens in which cultivated species can be used for food and medicine, as well as visual delight.
They do well in moist, loamy soil and require full sun to thrive properly. Plant roots a month before the first frost date in early to mid-autumn.
3. Hellebores (Helleborus niger, H. orientalis): Zones 3-9
Also known as lenten roses or Christmas roses, these beautiful flowers are renowned for appearing while snow still kisses the ground. They do best in moist, well-draining, fairly loamy soil, and anywhere from partial to full shade.
These flowers come in shades ranging from pale pink and cream to deep red or even black! Sow seeds before the last frost to stratify over the cold months and then explode into spring color.
4. Siberian Squills (Scilla siberica): Zones 2-8
If you’re in a colder growing zone, or if your land is significantly shaded, then consider planting luscious blue Siberian squill. Not only are they one of the most vibrant blue flowers around—they’re also one of the most cold-hardy, tolerant species you can choose.
After all, they thrive in Siberia (though they aren’t native to the area). They must be tough!
They do well in just about any soil or light but are happiest in slightly acidic, well-drained soil and partial sun. Squills are ideal for woodland gardens and planted around the bases of trees and smaller shrubs.
5. Winter Irises (Iris histrioides): Zones 5-8
These pale blue irises hail from Turkey and have been known to spring into bloom in temperatures as low as 28°F/-2°C. Unlike the Siberian blue beauties mentioned above, these require a more temperate environment to thrive.
We grew them in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where they sprung up happily in January alongside hellebores and winter jasmine. Plant your iris bulbs three inches deep and five inches apart, in very well-draining, moderately lean soil, in full sun, and water them in thoroughly.
6. English Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta): Zones 4-9
Few sights are as intoxicating as a bluebell woodland. They’re the quintessential English springtime flower and make every forest walk a delight for the senses.
These purple-blue bells do best in dappled sun/partial shade, making them ideal for shaded lawns or heavily treed borders. In addition, they do well in just about any soil, provided that it’s fairly well draining.
Mix aged compost into the soil you’re planting, and plant your bulbs four inches deep and six inches apart at least six weeks before the first frost.
7. Daffodils (Narcissus sp.): Zones 4-8
Who doesn’t get excited at the sight of stunning yellow blooms standing tall and bright in the early spring sunshine? Daffodils are some of the first flowers to show up as winter winds down, and they’re often picked for Imbolc or Easter bouquets.
They need full sun to thrive but will do okay in partial shade. Ensure that the soil is rich and moist but well-draining, and plant your bulbs four inches deep, spaced 10-12 inches apart, between mid-August and early October.
8. Tulips (Tulipa): Zones 3-8
There are over 3,000 tulip varieties to choose from, in a wide range of hues and textures. You can’t go wrong with these delicate beauties if you’re aiming for as much spring color as possible.
Plant your bulbs in the fall, four to six inches deep, spaced three to four inches apart in well-drained, acidic soil, in full sun. Additionally, plant more bulbs than you think you’ll need: you’ll inevitably lose some to winter rot and either insect or squirrel predation.
9. Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus): Zones 8-11
Paperwhite narcissus flowers are white and yellow, so they aren’t the most vibrant species on this list. That said, their scent is so stunningly intoxicating that they’re worth planting if you have the right growing conditions for them.
These can only be grown outdoors in warm climates but can be forced in pots and containers in cooler zones. Plant your bulbs in September, four inches deep and six inches apart in rich, moist, well-draining soil in full sun.
10. Windflower Anemones (Anemone nemorosa): Zones 4-9
These delicate beauties come in shades of white, blue, pink, and mauve and are often found in and around wooded areas. They do best in moist, well-draining, fairly rich soils and dappled sunshine, as direct sunlight can cause them to wilt quite quickly.
Plant rhizomes in October, two to three inches deep and four to six inches apart, in clusters of 20. Cover well with compost; they should act once the soil warms in early spring.
11. Peonies (Paeonia spp.): Zones 4-9
With their frilly, delicate petals and delectable fragrance, peonies are must-haves for springtime color in traditional cottage gardens. They come in a variety of different hues, and are absolutely exquisite in mixed bouquets.
Peonies require well-drained, fertile, slightly acidic soil and full sun for maximum blooms.
Soak bare roots for a couple of hours, then plant them with the roots aimed downwards and the “eyes” one inch below soil surface level. If you’re planting several at once, space them two feet apart to allow for eventual spread.
12. Crown Imperials (Fritillaria imperialis): Zones 5-9
Do you love texture and intense hues? Then be sure to incorporate crown imperials into your spring color garden. They look like the love children of Tillandsias and pineapples, with bright orange blossoms and sharp, spiky crowns.
While they’re tolerant of most soils, you’ll get the best results if you mix a 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer in before planting your bulbs (in full sunlight!) and then cover them with mulch.
Plant your bulbs in early to mid-fall. Aim to plant them six inches deep, 12 inches apart, in clusters of six-10.
13. Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spectabilis): Zones 3-9
If your garden is quite shady, consider planting some of these adorable, pink, heart-shaped flowers. They thrive in shady conditions, and make excellent understory plants in woodland or cottage gardens.
Bleeding hearts do best in loamy, moist, well-draining soil with plenty of humus content. Sow seeds in September or October, cover them with compost, water them, and let them sleep sweetly all winter. They’ll jump up in early springtime, shortly after crocuses and daffodils.
14. Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis): Zones 4-8
Hyacinths’ scent is nothing short of ethereal, making them an absolute must for an early spring color garden. They come in varying shades of pink, white, blue, and purple and add both color and texture wherever they’re planted.
These flowers require light, loose, fairly moist, well-draining soil and at least six to eight hours of sunshine to thrive. Amend soil with leaf mold and perlite if needed before planting six to eight weeks before the first anticipated frost date.
Plant them four to six inches deep with the widest part of the bulb facing downwards, four to six inches apart. Water the bulbs well, but don’t soak them too often unless you want them to rot over the winter./
15. Grape Hyacinths (Muscari spp.)
If you love the deep indigo of standard garden hyacinths but you’re short on space (or you prefer a lower groundcover), consider planting Muscari. Also known as “grape hyacinths,” these flowers have delicate raceme spikes covered in blue, bell-like blossoms.
They average four-six inches in height and thrive in partial sunshine in slightly acidic, well-draining soil. As far as spring color goes, you’ll be treated to swathes of blue and purple once they’ve established and spread around the area.
16. Alliums (Allium spp.)
The Allium family encompasses edibles such as onions, chives, leeks, and ramps, but features some decorative species as well. For example, Allium giganteum can grow up to four feet (or 1.5 meters) tall, topped by purple, globe-like blooms.
Alliums come in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white and are excellent for adding height and texture to the garden. As an added bonus, they’ll keep herbivores away when used as perimeter borders.
17. Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum): Zones 9-11
If you live in a warmer climate and you’re fond of pink, peach, red, and purple blooms, then be sure to add cyclamen to your spring color roster. These flowers do best in loamy, moist, well-draining soil with dappled or indirect sunshine.
Plant corms in soil amended with compost in mid-autumn. Aim to plant them so that the tops of the corms are about half an inch below the soil surface. Then cover them with compost, water well, and let them establish themselves over the winter months.
18. Snowdrops (Galanthus): Zones 3-8
Although you may be sick of seeing white after months of snow, consider planting snowdrops.
Their cheerful little white blooms and bright green foliage can lift spirits exponentially when they appear towards the end of winter, especially if seasonal affective disorder has been an issue!
These beauties like loose, well-draining, moderately rich soil and dappled sunshine but are tolerant of most conditions. Loosen the soil in September or October, plant bulbs three to four inches deep and four to five inches apart, and let them do their thing.
19. Pasqueflowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris): Zones 4-8
If you have light, sandy, well-draining, slightly alkaline soil and plenty of sun, consider pasqueflowers as part of your spring color planting plans.
They received their moniker by blooming around Easter in early springtime and add luscious purple blooms to an otherwise gray-brown landscape.
In mid to late August, scarify seeds with sandpaper or files and soak them for 24 hours before planting one-eighth inch deep. Cover with light sand and vermiculite, water in, and then let nature do the rest.
20. Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum): Zones 6-10
Although this jasmine cultivar doesn’t share its cousins’ fragrance, its intense yellow blooms are a welcome explosion of spring color after winter’s barren branches.
Although it does best in well-draining, sandy loam, it can tolerate infertile soil quite well, provided it gets at least six hours of full sunshine daily. To propagate winter jasmine, take cuttings from mature plants in August, treat them with rooting hormone and let them root in coconut coir potting soil for six to eight weeks.
Then gradually expose the pots to outdoor temperatures before transferring them into the ground before the first frost date.
Notes on Autumn Planting
When you’re considering which flowers to plant in fall for spring color, be sure to note their ideal growing zone and soil conditions. Otherwise, you may be greatly disappointed when springtime rolls around, and all you see is barren soil.
Bulbs or rootlets that need damp soil may dry out in the winter months, and vice versa: those that love well-draining soil may rot from winter wetness or runoff.
Choose fall bulbs and corms that seem firm and healthy, with no black spots or soft, squishy areas. If they have papery coverings (such as daffodils and related species), those coverings should be dry and crisp rather than damp or slimy.
Plant them as soon as possible so they aren’t exposed to humidity or potentially damaging pathogens.
Additionally, be careful about cultivating plants like narcissus, hyacinths, daffodils, and hellebores (among others).
These plants are toxic if ingested and can be lethal if eaten by pet dogs, cats, rabbits, or small children. Make sure to do proper research as to your chosen plants’ toxicity before planting, and/or keep them corralled in areas that won’t get any foot traffic.