Five native shrubs for early spring blooms

Five native shrubs for early spring blooms
Witch hazel's firework-like blooms have a spicy fragrance and can adapt to a range of sunlight conditions. (Photo/Greenstreet Gardens)

By Greenstreet Gardens

After a long winter, spring blooms are certainly a welcome sight for sore eyes. At this point, we’re just itching to be greeted by those beautiful colors and lovely fragrances every time we open the door.

That’s what makes planting native, early spring-blooming plants such a great idea. Say goodbye to winter even sooner with these five fantastic, native shrubs and their early-season blooms.


Aronia also goes by the name chokeberry, and while its nickname suggests a less-than-tasty berry, the fruit is actually loaded with antioxidants. While the health benefits of chokeberries are reason enough to grow this versatile deciduous shrub, most growers would say their early spring blooming period is their best feature. Aronia produces stunning clusters of delicate white and shellpink flowers that resemble mini cherry blossoms. The spring flowers and summer berries are a major draw for birds, bees and butterflies, but the appeal of aronia also carries forward into autumn when they develop a brilliant red fall color.

Aronia is a self-sufficient shrub that isn’t too picky about location, but a sunny spot encourages more profuse blooming. Your Aronia might benefit from some light annual pruning for a tidier shape. Watering Aronia at ground-level is helpful for avoiding fungal disease and keeping the shrub looking its best.


It’s hard to describe a species that has such a diverse selection of size, shapes and colors, but just know that these elegant flowering shrubs never disappoint. While there are slight differences between azaleas and rhododendrons, azalea foliage has a somewhat finer texture that beautifully complements their bold blooms.

With such a large plant family comes a wide range of growth preferences and bloom times. Some of our favorite, native early-spring bloomers include Piedmont azalea and flame azalea. However, there are plenty of early-blooming hybrid varieties that can be grown in our zone, such as coral bells azalea. Our native azaleas are deciduous and bloom profusely when planted in full sun, whereas hybrid, evergreen azaleas perform best in partial shade.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel is arguably one of the most impressive flowering shrubs native to our region. These aren’t your regular spring flowers — their firework-like blooms feature long, thin, narrow petals that protrude from a reddish-brown center. Plant witch hazel close to your entrance or walkway so you can enjoy its pleasant, spicy fragrance every time you go outside.

This native shrub is pretty tolerant of most conditions and tends to be unbothered by many common pests. Witch hazel can adapt to a range of sunlight conditions, as long as you keep up a consistent watering schedule. We recommend mulching to help lock in moisture and fertilize each spring. Due to its upright branching habit, mature witch hazel sometimes grows into small trees if left unpruned.


With over 150 different cultivars, viburnum is one of the most versatile and well-loved flowering shrubs for any garden. There are plenty of early-spring varieties, such as mapleleaf viburnum and nannyberry viburnum, that will welcome the season with their large, creamy white flower clusters composed of small, delicate blooms. Some flower clusters are flat umbels, while others are rounded like a snowball. While most viburnum flowers are white, some display light pink hues. In the fall, your viburnums will grab your attention yet again with their attractive berries.

These pollinator-friendly flowers are native to Virginia and Maryland, so they don’t demand very much maintenance on our part. We recommend planting them in full sun for the best blooms, but they can adapt to partial shade as well.


Also known as spicebush, this native shrub is an absolute treat for the senses in early spring. As soon as you crush one of the leaves between your fingertips, the spicy fragrance will tell you exactly how this shrub’s nickname came to be. If there’s anything about this shrub that is more intoxicating than its aroma, it’s lindera’s blooming period. Eye-catching yellow flowers emerge on bare wood in the early spring before the shrub has leafed out, immediately commanding attention. Its cheerful color will immediately put you in a good mood.

Over time, the flowers fade and are replaced by vibrant green foliage and beautiful red berries that attract scads of birds. In the fall, lindera fades back to bright yellow as the foliage takes on its autumn colors. Lindera performs best in moist, well-drained soil with a springtime application of balanced fertilizer. Plant in sun or partial shade, and prune after flowering to keep it looking tidy.

Native, early blooming shrubs are among the first plants to announce spring’s arrival — and what green thumb doesn’t get excited over that?

Greenstreet Gardens is a family owned, locally grown greenery business located in Alexandria and Belle Haven, VA and Lothian, MD