What Are Flowering Ephemerals: Tips For Growing Spring Ephemerals

What Are Flowering Ephemerals: Tips For Growing Spring Ephemerals

By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

That unexpected, but brief burst of blooming color you see as winter ends likely comes, at least in part, from spring ephemerals. It may be the dainty blossom of woodland poppies, downy yellow violets, or dogtooth violets, the latter not related to the common violet. Read more to learn how to add this burst of color to your late winter landscape with spring ephemerals.

What are Flowering Ephemerals?

Flowering ephemeral info says these plants are wildflowers, able to exist without human intervention. Some are perennials, many are self-seeding annuals. Growing them in your landscape is easy and worthwhile when you see that first spring bloom.

Most prefer a part shade to shade location with filtered sun. Blooms appear just as the soil is touched by warmth at the end of winter. These plants go dormant in summer, leaving room for continuing blooms of other flowers throughout late spring and summer.

Originating on the floor of the forest, plants like Dutchman’s breeches are attractive ephemerals, long-lived perennials that seed and often naturalize. Its spring flowers look like a pair of white pantaloons. Related to bleeding heart, also an ephemeral, plant the pair together for blooms of hearts and breeches. There are several types of bleeding hearts. Consider growing bitterroot and bloodroot for colorful blooms as well.

Grow them with other perennials that bloom in spring or those that blossom in late winter, such as hellebores and crocus. The fleeting blooms of spring ephemerals may follow one another or you may have more than one blossom at the same time. Plant several in a garden under a tree, if you like, as these flowers that bloom briefly usually do so before leaves grow on the trees.

Now that you’ve learned what are flowering ephemerals, you can have them in place to bloom for you. Start them from seed in autumn for surprise blooms in late winter. For a bigger surprise, plant a pack of mixed wildflower seed and see which spring ephemerals bloom first in your landscape.

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Read more about General Flower Garden Care

Two different species of bulbs produces blue flowers commoly called bluebells. Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanca) form spikes of drooping, bell-like flowers of deep blue to blue-violet. Cultivar Excelsior especially grows large flowers in a deep blue tone. English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) grow a bit smaller with deliciously fragrant flowers of dark blue-violet.

  • Whether you decribe their blossom color as sky blue, cobalt, dark blue or even blue-violet, early spring-blooming flowers herald the return of warm weather.
  • English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) grow a bit smaller with deliciously fragrant flowers of dark blue-violet.

Winter Honeysuckle

Winter honeysuckle blooms are delicate, white, and highly fragrant.

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) – A welcome sight and scent in the late winter garden, this East Asian native perfumes the air with small, white, funneled blooms that open on mild days from January to early April. A deciduous, 6-foot shrub in the colder sectors of its zone 5 to 9 hardiness range, it behaves – or rather misbehaves – as a moderately to highly invasive 8- to 12-foot evergreen in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. It’s thus best reserved for northern U.S. gardens. Its hybrid Lonicera × purpusii (including ‘Winter Beauty’) does much the same thing. All forms of winter honeysuckle favor full to partial sun and well-drained, average to fertile soil.

Spring Ephemerals: Now You See Them.

For more current advice and adventures be sure to check out my Facebook Page, The Garden Buzz

Don't blink. You might miss these great little plants. You may think daffodils herald the arrival of spring but these native bloomers know just when spring is really here. Look for it and others on the list to be the first to bloom as temperatures moderate and winter leaves for sure.

These early blooming plants are especially important for pollinators as they emerge in spring when many other food sources are scarce.

Consider planting one or more of these charmers:

  • Bloodroot
  • Dutchman's Breeches
  • Trillium
  • Trout Lily
  • Hepatica
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Leave a comment and tell me about the ephemerals growing in your neck of the woods! I'd love to hear about them.

Pollinator Friendly Plants: Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium)

Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium)

Like lots of old-fashioned spring ephemerals this one comes with a slew of funny folk names like dogtooth violet, adder's tongue and fawn lily to mention a few. But what's an ephemeral you say? Just like the label implies these flowers are fleeting. Born atop broad foliage spotted like a trout, the nodding blooms of trout lily appear in early spring and then vanish, going dormant for the rest of the year. The one pictured is the cultivar 'Pagoda'. During the time it blooms this adorable native plant is a source of food for early emerging bees.

Type: Corm, Spring ephemeral

Habitat Function: Nectar plant for native bees

Attracts: Bees

Landscape Use: Woodland garden, naturalizing, ground cover

Hardiness: Zones 4-9

Color: Clear yellow

Native: To North America

Light: Dappled shade beneath deciduous trees

Soil: Moist, somewhat acidic soil

Water: Takes advantage of spring rains, tolerates dry shade while dormant

Size: 12-14 inches tall

Did You Know? Ants help ephemerals reproduce. They carry the seeds to their nest where the young feed on fatty deposits on the seeds call elaiosomes. The discarded seeds then germinate and form new colonies.

Pollinator Friendly Plants: Siberian Squill (Scilla)

Siberian Squill (Scilla)

People have mixed feeling about this little blue flower. Lots of people love to see its cheerful blooms rise above the snow this time of year, especially those who share the same weather with its Siberian origins. Popping up in lawns where they readily naturalize they're a sure sign of spring. Other folks fear its invasive quality after seeing it form thick colonies in local woodlands. In town it serves as an early source of much needed nectar for early emerging native bees.

Habitat Function: Nectar plant for native bees

Attracts: Bees

Landscape Use: Mass plantings, naturalizing, spring bulb displays

Hardiness: Zones 2-8

Color: Deep blue

Native: To Russia

Light: Full sun for best bloom, tolerates partial shade

Soil: Prefers somewhat acidic, loamy soil

Water: Average

Size: 3-6 inches tall

Did You Know? You can tell when bees forage on scilla by the steely blue pollen they carry on their bodies.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: May 15, 2014

May 15! But who would know it? Lows in the 30's, how am I supposed to plant, I ask? So afraid of stalling growth in plants by putting them out too soon. Are you in the same persistent winter-reluctant spring boat as me? These are the questions that keep gardeners up at night, when they should be resting up for a hard day's work/play in the garden.

So. slim pickins for GBBD. For my first in so long after going without a garden during our building process, I had hoped to re-enter with a blooming bang instead of a floral whimper. Alas, here are my offerings for this May 15, (supposedly the average last frost date for my area).

I love this little flower. Not technically a violet, although the yellow blooms do a downward-dog pose.

Also known as trout lily, fawn lily and adder's tongue. Dog tooth refers to its canine-shaped bulbs. This named cultivar has the same brown mottled leaves as the species, but has a bit larger, more curled flower. One of the first to pop up in spring, I know it has been a bright spot on my thrice daily rounds in the garden lately.

A little instant gratification I bought for a pair of quickie containers at the front door. But here's the cool thing. Recently I learned about pollen in shades of steely blue, like that of scilla (Siberian squill) flowers. Sure enough, this one does. Bees compartmentalize each flower type so you can see small cells of blue pollen in honeycomb.

These honeyberry bushes were planted not only for extreme cold hardiness and blueberry-like fruit but to cover an unsightly fence. The new neighbors took down that section so now I may have to rethink their location.

Will pollinators find these early blooms? It's pollinating partner is 'Berry Blue'.

And finally for the grand finale, a flourish of tulips.

Thanks to Carol at May Dream Gardens as always for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom .Day

Veggie Support Group: Build Your Own Pea Trellis

Ooh, I'm so excited. I can see my little pea seedlings poking their heads out of the soil. I can hardly count the days until they are ready. Get out the butter!

Lately in catalogs and garden centers I've noticed more and more pea trellis apparatuses, (or is that apparati?) for supporting the treasure-laden vines. Some are flat, some are tilted, some are arched, but all are pretty pricey.

I've always made my own pea trellises from bamboo poles and zip ties. They end up looking sorta cottage/sorta Asian. A little wonky. Whatever, they do the job.

For each trellis buy one bundle of 4' bamboo poles. They're sold 8-10 in a bundle for around $3-$6. Lay down an old blanket or paint cloth on a flat surface and arrange the poles in a grid. Leave more space at the bottom so those ends can be pushed into the soil to hold the trellis in place.

I bind the poles where they cross with small black zip ties. See the photo below. Work on the edges then inward. The poles may want to twist a bit but you can adjust this when you're done. Trim the off the excess plastic when you have the pieces all in place. Watch out, the edges can be sharp.

Adjust for your pea plant spacing and then push into the soil. I use galvanized u-shape pins to anchor them in place since my garden is exposed to wind along that side of the house.

Well at least the snow makes the trellis easier to see!

Now all you have to do is wait for your peas to germinate, climb the trellis and fill their pods! That's the hardest part.

Anguished Gardeners Amid Too Many Snow Days

The birds are singing their hearts out yet the forecast for today is 3-6" more slushy snow. While everyone is tired of "Sprinter", the name coined for this fifth season, it's us gardeners that are feeling most on edge, and ok, maybe those kids who can't start school sports cuz their playing fields are covered in SNOW!

What to do when the ground is still frozen hard in mid-April? Well, here's a bit of what I've been doing while digging is on hold.

This month I headed out to Fergus Falls, MN, not that far from Fargo, to speak at the West Otter Tail County Garden Day. I was honored to be included in this big event that featured 46 garden speakers from all around MN and even ND. They requested I talk about "Ten Tips for Better Garden Photos", elaborating from my magazine article of the same title. Everyone was so nice, the classes were full and the event ran like a well-oiled machine thanks to the organizational genius of Jan Brooberg and her band of hard-working Master Gardener volunteers.

During a break between my two talks I was able to check out all of the garden vendors. Seeing blooming plants and garden paraphernalia was kind of shocking to the system after you become resigned to an Arctic existence.

One vendor stuck out from the rest. This guy was a natural born salesman he engaged the customer with a personable introduction and a firm handshake. He was knowledgeable about his product and knew his target demographic. And he was just 10 years old.

Jacoby explained that their "tomato cradles" were designed, patented and built by his grandfather using re-purposed crates. I love the idea of new concept for tomato supports, and this one looks like it will indeed gently cradle your tomatoes while they grow. If you're interested in more info check out

Back in Minneapolis this week, I headed over to Magers and Quinn Bookstore to attend Amy Stewart's stop on her "Drunken Botanist" book tour. She was good humored about giving her talk while the snow and sleet pelted down outside, since she was booked for Miami the very next day. Her book has been a crossover success on all the bestseller lists. Only in a couple of chapters I can already recommend it.

It's an in-depth look at the botanical ingredients that made and make possible all the alcoholic drinks throughout history. As she says, look behind the bar at your favorite restaurant and all it really is, is distilled plant material. However, the book is a much more romanticized and wonky journey into the botany behind the booze.

Meanwhile planning for the 2013 Hennepin County Master Gardener Learning Garden Tour continues. As always we are cooking up lots of great ideas for the tour. This year we feature gardens in Edina, Bloomington and south Minneapolis with Master Gardeners on hand to answer your questions while you glean inspiration and information. It's Saturday, July 13 from 9-4. Check out the Hennepin County Master Gardener webpage for ticket info.

So it looks for now like all we can do is talk and dream about gardening, but surely spring and summer will eventually arrive, someday, right?

Northern Gardener Magazine Goes Digital-Free Access Right Now

Rain. Ice. Sleet. Slush. Snow. Repeat.

And we're melting, melting. I hear it in my head in the voice of the bad witch of Oz.

March is not a pretty month in Minnesota. I'm back from Savannah just in time to witness the great thaw. How was a kid from Southern California to know she should learn to ice skate, that it would serve her well in the future, for simply getting down the sidewalk? It's slippery out there, be careful!

Many garden bloggers are posting pics of their first daffodils, some in the deep south are already harvesting peas, you might say I'm pea-green with envy. Patience, my dear.

I can't report any gardening going on but I can tell you that a great gardening magazine has gone digital. Yes, more ways to read Northern Gardener. and me.

The March/April 2013 issue finds me full of beans. So what else is new you say? The humble bean has fueled armies and explorers for centuries. Now it's time to think beyond green beans and discover all the beautiful beans, both edible and ornamental that you can grow (as soon as the ground warms up to 55 degrees) in your garden.

Check out my article "So Many Beans", and be prepared to realize I only scratched the surface on this subject. Tasty heirloom beans with colorful names like Jacob's Cattle and Turkey Craw will entice you to try a few and delve deeper into their histories.

And is it too late to talk about mulch? When is the right time to remove it come spring? In the March/April issue my column, "Pushing the Zone", I discuss the warm and toasty insulating properties of mulch and how it can help you extend your growing limits. Well, actually I compare the whole process to having hot flashes, maybe too much information, but it makes sense.

But it's definitely not all about me. This issue talks about "Magical Magnolias", U of MN seed trial results, making a difference in the world with your garden, beautiful container combos, and much more.

The digital magazine will eventually be available only as an added benefit for MSHS (Minnesota State Horticultural Society) members and subscribers, but for the first three issues of 2013 access is open to everyone.

Spring Brings Changes to The Garden Buzz

I've come back to Minnesota just in time for the big thaw, and it's an early one. But if the Canadian geese are already back then it's probably not a false alarm. I place great stake on their comings and goings.

If anyone is old enough to remember their mother defrosting the Frigidaire, it's the same principle, a lot of drip, drip, crunch, drip, and a big sloppy mess. Mother Nature doesn't do it any better.

I like to say it's the ug-ugliest time of the year, when no outsiders should be allowed to visit the state. Drive down any freeway and witness the apocalyptic look of the landscape black, rotting snow, exposed litter and sad, soggy brown grass. And that's not counting my driveway, not shoveled for months while I was away, it's a slushy, crusty, slippery disaster zone.

Soon though the trees will be blooming, the frogs singing and that smell of damp earth and green growth will signal another season. I'm working on a litte re-birth in the blog department, aiming for a cleaner design and more readable (older eyes have asked for this) text, along with better use of photos.

Meanwhile it may get worse before it gets better, as those road construction signs say, thanks for your patience.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: February 15

Once again while I'm down south for winter, I am "borrowing" blooms for GBBD. Hope you don't mind.

One of my favorite past times is poking around old cemeteries. It's more about history and heart than the macabre. My daughter found this secluded cemetery when we made a quick return trip to Charleston for some J. Crew and another round of shrimp and grits at the Hominy Grill.

Down a shady, narrow path, tucked among the shops on King Street, you enter a cemetery much different than many in the low country. Often the graveyards here are a contrast of bare dirt and billowing azaleas draped in gray Spanish moss with hot pink flowers popping against aging stone.

The Unitarian Cemetery at Archdale Street is lush with flowers and vegetation, the greenery knitted together almost as if to hold the leaning stones and crumbling tombs together against the slow passage of time. What a hidden gem.

Cemeteries are known to be the repository not only of souls but that of tough and sometimes long-forgotten plants. I would love nothing more than to spend a year researching all the species thriving in this intimate space. With only a few hours, I settled for a stroll among the late-winter and early-spring flowers.

Spring snowflakes, (Leucojum vernum) , the "poor cousin" to Snowdrops (Galanthus)

As I find so many southern plants I can't grow up north, I made a mental note to plant some of these delightful little bulbs next fall. Hardy to Zone 3! The little white petals on these bell-shaped blooms are tipped with a spot of green, resembling little fairy hats.

These old-timey narcissus literally glow in the soft golden light of late afternoon.

I did do a little research later, coming to the conclusion this variety of daffodil is a southern heirloom called Grand Primo, harking from the 1800's.

A soft pink, single-flowered camellia by this inviting bench

A recently planted, young Edgeworthia chrysantha, commonly known as paper bush, this may be the cultivar called 'Snow Cream'.

The unique blooms are cherished for their lovely fragrance.

Azaleas are just beginning to bloom

Not flowers, but still noteworthy, ferns of all sorts.

Toppled stems blanket these graves

The church and cemetery have survived a fire, an earthquake and hurricanes. The damage is still seen here and there. Large trees fell on many of the graves crushing stone and ironwork.

Even with all of that turbulent history, it seems a peaceful resting place. The kind of place where a gardener might want to turn in her trowel.

Watch the video: 12 Spring Wildflowers You Should Know