Gardening

10 Flowers to Plant This Spring (Bye, Freezing Cold Nights)

From hardy hydrangeas and fragrant morning glories, there's lots to get excited about.

January 13, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

Ah, springtime! The time to toss off that blanket you’ve been curled up in all winter, open the windows to let in fresh air, and best of all, start planning out your gardens (or window boxes or planters). Personally, my favorite part of spring is watching all my plants come back to life, and if you’re ready to see your gardens bursting with new greenery, now’s the time to start thinking about what you want to plant for the growing season.

Some flowers, such as daffodils and tulips, need to be sown in the fall if they’re going to bloom in the spring, but even if you missed the boat on those, there are plenty of other beautiful blooms that can be planted in March, April, or May. If you’re planning for warmer months ahead, here are some of our favorites.

But first: When Is It Safe To Start Planting?

We’re all eager to see our gardens back in full bloom, but if you put plants (or seeds) in the ground too early, a late-season frost could wipe them out. In general, the end of March or beginning of April is the earliest you should start planting, but it’s always a good idea to check when the last frost is predicted to hit your area. (The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a trusted resource for this, as they calculate probability based on several decades of data.) In some colder locations, you may need to wait until May to start planting outdoors.

The Best Flowers to Plant in the Spring

Once you’re sure freezing-cold nights are behind you, it’s time to grab a spade and start beautifying your gardens. Here are our favorite flowers to plant in the spring.

1. Pansies

When spring rolls around, you’ll start seeing huge trays of multi-colored pansies in your local garden centers, and these blooms are a great choice for novice gardeners, as they’re quite forgiving in their care. Pansies are annual flowers—meaning they need to be replanted every year—that thrive in full sunlight, but they’re tolerant of cold temperatures, as well. Plus, they come in a lovely range of colors, including yellow, orange, red, purple, white, and more.

2. Marigolds

These bright yellow and orange blooms are a cheery addition to any garden. Marigolds are an annual that’s quite easy to grow from seed—they germinate quickly and bloom within a few months—and they’ll keep flowering all season long.

3. Petunias

Petunias are another popular spring flower thanks to their long blooming season, and while most people will treat them as annuals, those in warmer climates may be able to have them come back the following year. Petunias come in shades of pink, purple, red, white, and blue, and they’re easiest to grow as transplants, frequently being used in hanging baskets or as garden borders.

4. Zinnias

You can attract lots of butterflies to your garden by planting zinnias, which feature bold, colorful blooms on a single stem—perfect if you’re hoping to make floral arrangements for your table. Zinnias are annuals that come in a wide range of colors and feature rows upon rows of petals, and they grow best from seed, typically sprouting in less than a week.

5. Sunflowers

Who doesn’t love a bold, brilliant sunflower? When planted in the spring, sunflowers will typically bloom in mid- to late-summer. Just be sure to give them ample room to grow and a location that gets several hours of direct sunlight per day.

6. Sweet Pea

Sweet peas are trickier to grow than other spring flowers, but your efforts will be worth it, as these climbing annuals have a lovely appearance and even nicer fragrance. You’ll want to plant seeds as soon as the soil is dry enough to work with, as sweet peas take longer to germinate, and once they start growing, be sure to give them a tall support to climb up.

7. Gladiolus

You can add some variety to your garden with gladiolus flowers, which grow in tall spikes that make a lovely addition to summer bouquets. Gladiolus corms (which are similar to bulbs) can be planted in the spring, and you’ll have blooms in around two months. Plus, these gorgeous flowers are perennials, so they’ll come back year after year!

8. Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are a popular low-maintenance flowering shrub with large round bloom clusters, commonly in shades of blue, purple, and white. You can transplant hydrangeas into your garden in the spring, choosing a spot that receives partial sunlight, and the perennial shrub will come back in subsequent years when cared for properly.

9. Morning Glories

Fragrant pink, magenta, and white morning glory blooms are a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds, and the drought-tolerant plant will thrive if you give it an arch or trellis to climb up. You can plant morning glory seeds in late spring once the ground has warmed up (keep the seeds away from pets, though, as they’re toxic), and be sure to give them plenty of space—these climbing plants can grow up to 12 feet in one season!

10. Black-Eyed Susans

If you love the look of wildflowers, black-eyed susans are a bright and cheery option that you can plant in the springtime—just be wary that they can take over, squashing out other flowers growing around them. You’ll want to sow these flowers in late spring once the soil has reached 70 degrees or so, and they’ll generally start blooming in June.

What are you looking forward to growing this Spring? Let us know your plans below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Winifred Ryan
    Winifred Ryan
  • KR
    KR
  • Smaug
    Smaug
Freelance writer, product tester & baking enthusiast.

7 Comments

Winifred R. January 19, 2021
I’ve found gladiolas are not perennial everywhere in the US. They do return in Virginia, but not consistently in Colorado and not at all in New England if left in the ground. They need to be dug up and the bulbs held in a dry place over winter. If you’re somewhere the ground freezes, plan on digging.
 
Smaug January 19, 2021
If you live in a warm climate they can reproduce explosively and volunteer inconveniently- you're likely to end up digging anyway.
 
Winifred R. January 19, 2021
Smaug, you got me to laugh at that. Want some day lilies or Siberian iris that are taking over parts of my yard? The glads are polite by comparison. :-)
 
Smaug January 20, 2021
Thanks, but I already have snowdrops, dietes, assorted oxalis... For better or worse I also have gophers to keep them in check (though they won't touch the paperwhites)
 
KR January 13, 2021
I start sweet peas every year from seed. There are so many beautiful varieties, including dwarf, (non-climbing) that I grow in pots on my balcony. I soak the seeds overnight before planting in little pots to start... I will go out and put my nose right in sweet pea blossoms, esp when they've been warmed by the sun. Such JOY!!!!!

and, yes, Smaug, I would never grow Morning Glory here--a true nuisance plant here on the west coast which can take over a garden and shrubs with remarkable stealth.

What are you looking forward to planting this spring?
 
Smaug January 14, 2021
I keep a propagating operation going year round, so I always have new plants starting, but it's time to get serious with the seed catalogues (and of course the Annie's Annuals catalog). By February I'm usually desperate enough to plant something- anything- that I'm wandering through the kitchen looking for sprouted garlic bulbs or whatever, but this winter has been so mild that I'm still harvesting peppers (the basil finally gave up a couple of weeks ago), and already have a few seedlings spending the night outdoors. I really look forward to the whole phenomenon of life bursting out all around- what I really don't look forward to is all the early spring repotting and root pruning- most of my plants (and there are a lot of them) are in containers due to gophers, and repotting can be a major chore.
 
Smaug January 13, 2021
When you can plant is greatly dependent on where you are. In much of coastal California it's spring by mid February; in northern Montana- well, I don't really know but it's pretty late. I wouldn't put too much fate in Farmer's Almanac, as climate change is wreaking real havoc with weather patterns. These are not by any stretch of imagination the "best" spring flowers (and some are best planted in fall in mild climates), but they're pretty reliable- in fact morning glories (perennial here) and gladiolus can become real pests- and easily found. Many seeds and bulbs (including tulips, by the way) need a period of cold weather to germinate or bloom- newly purchased bulbs will have been chilled, but if you're replanting from your own bulbs this is an important factor. I've never heard the word "sowing" used for planting bulbs.