Spring has sprung, and the garden centers are packed with plants. If you’d like to add some new spring-flowering shrubs or a small tree or two to your landscape, how do you decide?
We asked some garden and landscape professionals for their favorites.
Emma Erler, Education center program coordinator at UNH Cooperative Extension, suggests these spring bloomers.
UNH Cooperative Extension
Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus). “I think this is an underused shrub that has beautiful fall color, ranging from true gold to bright red,” Erler says. “In the spring, this plant has lovely clusters of pink to white bell-shaped flowers, which are the real reason I like it so much.” Enkianthus is related to rhododendrons, prefers acid soils, is a slow grower and a good choice for smaller landscapes.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia). “I love many of the witch hazel hybrids for their colorful, late-winter/early spring blooms. The fragrant flowers with their strap-like, four-petaled flowers are one of the earliest signs of spring,” Erler says. ‘Arnold Promise’ has bright-yellow, highly fragrant flowers. ‘Jelena’ is another fragrant cultivar that has coppery-colored flowers and a horizontal growth habit.
Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii or Fothergilla major). “Fothergilla is another great, underused shrub. It has excellent fall color, usually in shades of orange and red. It also has fragrant, white bottlebrush flowers in spring, and a dense rounded form,” Erler says. “I love landscape plants that have more than one season of interest—spring blooms and excellent fall color.”
Michael Nerrie, of Distant Hill Gardens in Walpole, calls himself the CEO of the garden: chief environmental observer.
He and his wife, Kathy, have opened their spectacular fifty-eight-acre property to the public as a center for environmental and horticultural education. These are some of Michael’s favorite spring shrubs and small trees.
Distant Hill Gardens
Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). “An East Coast native, this is definitely the best pollinator shrub we have in the garden. Every type of pollinating insect you can think of will visit it when it blooms. ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is the same genus and species, but is a cultivar that attracts very few pollinators. This is a great example of the ecosystem advantage of a species plant over a cultivar,” Michael points out.
Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata). “This has interesting winter buds and drop-dead gorgeous flowers during late April and early May,” he says.
Lily-of-the-valley bush (Pieris japonica). “My favorite for year-round interest is ‘Avalanche’. It is beautiful in all seasons,” he says.
Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternafolia). “This is one of my favorite natives. It offers interesting branching in winter, is beautiful in bloom and nothing is better than its winter berries for attracting birds,” Michael says.
Paul James, of Landscape Matters in Hampton, has a degree in landscape architecture and environmental design. During his fifty-year career in the landscape industry, he worked with the National Park Service at the White House before returning to New Hampshire.
Azalea ‘White Lights’ (Rhododendron ‘White Lights’). This is an award-winning, hybrid, deciduous azalea from the Northern Lights Series. Pale pink buds open to large fragrant white flowers. “This azalea works well in a mixed-shrub border and is very hardy for our New Hampshire climate,” James says.
Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis). “Profuse, pale-pink bell-shaped flowers and multiple-arching branches make this shrub a stunner in a shrub border or stand alone in the landscape,” he says. This vase-shaped plant grows between eight- and ten-feet tall and wide, and does well in dry, sandy soil.
Deutzia x ‘Yuki Cherry Blossom’. “This is a hybrid cross between D. gracilis and D. rosea hardy to zone 5. Compact and bushy, this shrub matures at between one- and two-feet tall with a two- to three-foot spread. “This low grower is great for the front of a shrub border or along a walkway,” James says.
Royal azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii). “Blooming in early to mid-May with its large pink flowers, the royal azalea is another spring, flowering shrub in my landscape. The fall leaf color is bright and beautiful, adding another ‘blooming’ season of interest,” he says.
Dan Bruzga is a landscape architect and owner of db Landscaping, a design/build business in Sunapee. Bruzga also holds a degree in horticulture and specializes in the extensive permitting needed for waterfront projects. He has two plants that are his absolute favorites.
Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). “The foliage comes out first, then the white flowers blossom on top of the leaves and persist for about six weeks. The trees can be slow to leaf out in the spring, but they will be in bloom long after the other spring bloomers are done,” Bruzga says. He admires the dogwood’s other attributes, including disease resistance, red fruits, bright red fall color, and exfoliating bark in shades of gray and brown that give it winter interest. “It rocks for most of the year!” he says.
Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii). “The fragrance of these big, white flowers is their best attribute,” he says. “Plant it near an entrance or kitchen window to enjoy the fragrance. They have nice fall color, too.”
A landscaper for twenty-five years, Beth Stavru fell in love with landscaping when she worked for Pellettieri Associates of Warner.
Eventually, she went out on her own and formed Stone Blossom Landscape and Design, a design/build company in Bedford. Here are a few of her favorites for spring.
Stone Blossom Landscape and Design
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas). “This is another early spring bloomer that is really more like a small tree,” Stavru says. “It produces edible fruit that can be used for preserves. Birds also love the fruit, so it is a great option for bird lovers. As the tree matures, the bark exfoliates, providing four season interest.” Clusters of yellow, star-like flowers appear in April before the leaves emerge.
Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia). “For people who love birds, forsythia is great planted along the woodland edges where it offers birds protection,” she says.
Lilacs (Syringa). “These are classic spring bloomers, very hardy and easy to grow. There are lots to choose from in a range of colors; some stay small while other grow up to fifteen feet tall,” Stavru says.
Rob Farquhar has been the nursery and garden center manager at Brochu Nursery and Landscaping in Concord for fourteen years. He works with many local landscapers and offers these suggestions.
Brochu Nursery and Landscaping
Rhododendrons. “Small-leaved PJM types like ‘Olga Mezitt’ and ‘Bubblegum’ are extremely hardy and foolproof,” Farquhar says. Both have showy, pink flowers early in spring and can be grown in shady locations. “The straight species of Rhododendron PJM has a lavender flower and gets to be between six-and eight-feet tall. ‘Olga’ and ‘Bubblegum’ stay smaller, reaching three to four feet at maturity. The smaller size makes them very useful planted around the home,” he says.
Crabapple (Malus). “Many people shy away from crabapples since the fruit can be messy,” Farquhar says. He recommends the variety ‘Spring Snow’, which has large, white flowers but does not form fruit.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis). “This small tree really signifies spring,” Farquhar says. “It is native, beautiful and hardy. The flowers are beneficial to bees, and the tree has June berries for the birds.” ‘Robin Hill’ or ‘Autumn Brilliance’ grows to be about twenty-five-feet tall. No room for a tree? Farquhar recommends a six- to eight-foot-tall shrub form, such as Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’.
Azalea ‘Cornell Pink’ (Rhododendron mucronulatum). “This is my favorite, since it is the first to bloom in the spring with a nice pink flower,” he says. “It doesn’t get too big, usually between three- and four-feet high.” He often recommends azaleas for shaded sites.
Magnolias. “They are gaining popularity,” Farquhar says. “There are the good, old star types (Magnolia stellata) and saucers (M. x soulangiana) with their big blossoms.” For small gardens, Farquhar suggests The Little Girl Series magnolias, developed at the National Arboretum. They all have girls’ names—‘Ann’, ‘Jane’, ‘Betty’, ‘Judy’ and ‘Susan’. As small, hardy trees, they grow only between eight- and sixteen-feet tall, but still offer large, showy blossoms.
Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii). Farquhar agrees with Erler, calling this a “sleeper plant” that deserves to be used more in home landscapes. He recommends the hybrid ‘Blue Shadow’ for its blue-green foliage and dwarf ‘Mount Airy’. Both do well in full-sun to part-shade.