The Plant Native

The best native plants for spring gardens

We all want our gardens and yards to come alive in the spring. Spring is when many of us (especially in seasonally transformed places) emerge from our own hibernation of being indoors for months. Native bees and butterflies are doing this same break from dormancy. With the help of some native plants, we can watch flowers bloom while giving some much-needed food for awakening pollinators. Scroll on to find some spring native favorites.

Dogwoods and Redbuds are some of the earliest plants to bloom

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Spring is consistently the boom-time for gardening and gardeners. Plant nurseries become verdant circuses of flowers, shrubs, and trees. Excitement for the season can sometimes turn into feeling overwhelmed very quickly! That’s one reason why committing to planting native makes garden decision-making much easier.

Having a spring garden that looks great is very easy to accomplish when you commit to planting native. There are dozens of spring natives that emerge as temperatures start to rise. Not only that, planting native is the easiest, least work-intensive way to landscape—way easier than a lawn! Here are some reasons why planting native spring plants is worth it:

  • Native plants have been thriving in our areas for thousands of years. They don’t need special fertilizers or care—once they are established, native plants are happy with rain.
  • Iconic butterflies and native bees need native plants to survive—especially at transition times like the spring and fall. Native plants give food and habitats crucial for survival. Planting native helps wildlife survive.
  • Planting native returns YEARS of fuss-free beauty. All the plants listed here are perennials, meaning plant once and they’ll come back year after year. Enjoy some time back while you watch your garden thrive.
Oakleaf Hydrangea leaves look like bright-green Olympic torches as they emerge in the fall

Some of the earliest spring bloomers are…trees!

We’ve all become accustomed to envisioning spring flowers being close to the ground and diminutive. Spring favorites like daffodils and tulips can make springtime gardening seem somewhat small. (Sadly, neither tulips nor daffodils are native to North America.)

The reality is native trees put entire gardens in the sky in the spring, thanks to springtime flowering. When planting a spring garden, make sure to include some incredible statement trees. Some of these trees—like Redbuds—are the first to flower (even before tulips!)

Favorite Spring Native Trees

Here are some spring-flowering native trees that will bring color and pollinators to their branches as the temperatures start to rise.

Redbud trees cover themselves with tiny pink-purple flowers in early spring

Redbuds

Once you’ve seen a Redbud tree in bloom, you will not forget it. Redbuds cover their branches and their trunks with tiny pink-purple flowers. They do this at the very beginning of spring, making this show stand out dramatically against the gray-and-brown drabness of early spring. And after they bloom, they have HEART-SHAPED leaves! A must for landscaping.

Redbud Planting Tips

Flowering Dogwoods are beloved for a reason—they put entire gardens in their branches

Dogwood Trees

There are twelve Dogwoods native to North America, and each of them puts on a show in the spring. The image here is of a North American favorite: the Eastern Flowering Dogwood. It’s a favorite of landscapers because its multi-season beauty just won’t quit for generations (these trees can live 80+ years!)

Native Dogwood Planting Tips

Fringe trees are gorgeous, sweet-smelling wonders in the spring

Fringe Trees

This is an absolutely stunning native tree. Fringe trees look like they are covered in elegant confetti every spring—and the blooms can smell amazing. Walk by and you’ll hear the pollinators buzzingly contendedly. They stay small (as trees go) topping out around 30 feet. This makes them perfect statement trees: they won’t overcome houses and look amazing paired with other native flowers around their base.

Fringe Tree Planting Tips

YES—this is a native tree that will happily grow along the entire eastern seaboard and midwest US. Let's all plant one!

Southern Catalpa Trees

This is another sleeper hit among native plants: Southern Catalpas are knock-outs in the spring. Their flowers look like a cross between a snapdragon and a begonia. The name ‘catalpa’ means ‘winged head’—and when you look at the intricacy of the flower shape, you can easily imagine a well-dressed deity happily wearing the blooms as a crown. These are TALL trees—up to 100 feet! Give them space and watch their sky-garden grow larger year after year.

Southern Catalpa Planting Tips

There are other spring-favorite natives, too!

Here are all the spring-blooming natives; visit each to learn more about their care and planting tips.

We all want gardens filled with flowers in the spring (and the garden centers know it!) Planting native springtime favorites ensures we have gorgeous, flowering landscapes with minimal work—especially compared to lawns or planting non-native. Plant native flowers like Wild Columbine, False Blue Indigo, and Creeping Phlox alongside stunning native trees that put gardens in the sky, like Redbuds, Fringe trees, and Southern Catalpas. (And plant a few Pawpaws for crazy spring flowers and tasty fall fruits!) Planting native gives years and years of springtime beauty. Happy planting!

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