First signs of spring

By: Kathryn Courtney

Everyone is holding their breath waiting for the first signs of spring. We all have a favorite plant we watch for the first bloom of the season. For me it is my Saucer Magnolia and my Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow bushes. Pats favorite early bloomers are Sweet Olive and Flowering Quince. Then there are the ever present favorites, Azaleas and Bridal Wreath Spirea. Nothing compares to roof high Formosa Azaleas in full fuchsia bloom. There is a house down the street that has these azaleas with bridal wreath planted together. These early blooming shrubs make a beautiful nature bouquet. Then there are the gorgeous light pink George Taber azaleas. These azaleas light up the garden with soft pink ruffled blossoms.

     If you are looking for something a little different for early spring blooms, try one of Pat or my favorites. Bushes or small trees to try are Sweet Olive (Osmanthus fragrans), Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles), Saucer Magnolia ( Magnolia Soulangiana), Yesterday, Today andTomorrow (Brunfelsia), Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) and Mock Orange (Philadelphus). All of the shrubs are beautiful, each in their own ways.
     Plant Sweet Olive close to a path or doorway for the enchanting scent the small white flowers produce. The blossoms are not showy but the fragrance is absolutely heavenly. This is an evergreen shrub or small tree with dark green glossy leaves. In our hot sun this shrub thrives in partial shade especially in the summer afternoon. Give this plant regular water and its sweet apricot fragrance will scent your entire yard. Another shrub to plant for scent and also bloom is Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, This shrub can grow to 8′ but can be kept smaller with trimming.The blooms start out dark purple fading to violet, lavender and then to white. This plant blooms over a long period of time so during the blooming season it is covered with 3 or 4 different bloom colors. Yesterday has a very strong jasmine like fragrance that really permeates the air. It is a great shrub all-around as it is evergreen and very hardy. Texas Mountain Laurel is a slow growing small tree. The spring blooms are purple and smell just like grape soda. When this plant is blooming here at the nursery you can find the workers gathered around it getting their daily (or hourly) whiff of the delicious smell. This multitrunked small tree  grows from 3′ to 15′. It is also evergreen and does best in full sun. It needs a dry area so be sure to plant this shrub above ground as described in our planting guide.
 Saucer Magnolias are a favorite for southern and gulf coast gardeners. There are many types of saucer magnolias and all do well here. My personal favorite is The Black Tulip. This magnolia has dark purple blooms on pretty white branches. The blooms come first on these trees followed by the leaves. The blossoms really stand out on the bare branches. This is one of my all time favorite small trees and I will always have one in my yard. They are very hardy and grow in sun to partial shade. Give them regular water the first year. After that, I have found, they are almost drought tolerant. Flowering Quince is another shrub that blooms on bare branches. Bloom color ranges from orange to cherry red and single to double blossoms. Some species are fruit producing. quince makes excellent jam, jelly or chutney. This shrub grows in sun to part shade. It likes shade on summer afternoons.To prune a Flowering Quince make cuts at the base of the plant once the flowers are done. Never hack back the entire shrub as this will harm the plant. Flowering Quince can reach 6′ but can be kept smaller. There are also low growing options if desired. Once the plant blooms it puts in small round green leaves. This plant also prefers to be planted up. It needs to be watered regularly the first year. The Quince is drought tolerant after established.
 Last but not least is another of my favorites, Mock Orange. Numerous times I have tried to grow eastern Dogwoods in my yard with no success. Mock Orange has become my substitute for the Dogwood. It flowers the same time with large white single blossoms that resemble Dogwood blooms. Its yellow centers make it look like a shrub full of daisies. I love this shrubby vine like plant. It can be grown up a trellis or arbor or grown as a shrub.The blooms have a pleasant citrus like fragrance that adds to the attraction of this plant. To prune this shrub remove 1/3 of the old branches at the ground to make way for new growth.Choose a spot in your yard that has plenty of sun and keep your mock orange watered and it will make your spring very happy indeed.
     All of the plants mentioned in this article should be planted according to our planting guide.If you have any questions about the care or feeding of these plants come see us. we will be happy to help you. Even if you don’t need help come see us. We are all really excited for spring and can’t wait for the hustle and bustle to begin!