12 Low-Maintenance Flowering Shrubs to Plant in the Fall for Gorgeous Spring Blooms
The first brilliant blooms of spring can be a sight for sore eyes after a glacial winter. But some of the season's most stunning flowers are also the most grueling to grow. Before you throw in your gardening gloves, remember that there are a slew of easy to cultivate options. Here, we're showing you a number of low-maintenance shrubs to plant in the fall that will yield gorgeous blooms come spring.
From the unique and eye-catching Iceberg Alley Sageleaf Willow, pictured here, to the springtime favorite that is the rhododendron, there are so many varieties of low-maintenance, easy-to-care-for shrubs that will spruce up your garden.
"Planting spring-blooming shrubs should ideally be done in spring or fall, whereas the heat of summer planting can be tough on plants as they begin to establish in their new garden homes," says Ryan McEnany, public relations and communications specialist at Bailey Nurseries. Certain shrubs thrive best in certain zones, so be sure to check the USDA's Plant Hardiness Zone Map to ensure you're choosing the right plants for your region.
While planting in spring has its own benefits—like warm weather and sunshine aplenty—you'll likely have to wait until the next spring to see results. "Fall planting is also fantastic because it won't have [the] upcoming hot weather of summer to add stress to the plant," he says. McEnany urges gardeners to remember that soil temperatures stay warmer longer than air temperatures, "so even if it starts to get cold outside the plant can still establish that root system late into fall." Come next spring, the plants will wake up with vigor, setting the stage—your garden—for a colorful show. Ahead, we're showing you easy-to-care-for flowering shrubs to plant in the fall for beautiful blooms in the spring.
A prolific plant prone to great growth, rhododendrons can increase in height to 10 feet or more over time. Rhododendrons are evergreen spring-flowering shrubs that prefer gardens in the shade. They thrive in zones 5-8. The genus makes a particularly shrewd choice for screening due to its impressive vertical measurement.
"Magnolia are amazing spring-blooming shrubs with multiple species that offer different and beautiful flowers in spring," says McEnany. The Southern Magnolia, which thrives in zones 6-10, is an evergreen shrub with fragrant flowers that reach up to 12 inches in diameter. The glossy, two-tone leaves and cup-shaped blooms are a staple of the southern landscape in spring. Another option, and one of McEnany's favorites, is the Star Magnolia, which can be seen across the United States and does best in zones 4-8. "Centennial Blush is a gorgeous variety that wakes up early in the season and bursts with fireworks of pink color from fuzzy pods of silver," he says. "It can be grown as a shrub or small tree, which fits so perfectly into so many people's landscape, and with the ability to bloom from Minnesota to Georgia, it is a winner."
Lilacs are an extensive group of scented treelike shrubs. The flowering species is available in seemingly endless tones of blue, pink, and white; each variation of which requires little care to produce beautiful blooms. Most lilacs are hardy in zones 3-7.
The camellia is a Southern flowering evergreen shrub known for its fragrant aroma and delicate array of aesthetically pleasing hues, which range from cream to fuchsia. Todd Carr, former senior garden editor at Martha Stewart Living, advises checking the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map before purchasing the plant. Most species prefer the warmer zones 7-9, although some newer cultivars do well in zone 6 too.
Lotus Moon Pearlbush
An unsung hero of the spring-blooming landscape in cool climates is the pearlbush. "This plant gets its name because it starts with strands of pearls emerging along woody stems that quickly emerge to showy white flowers that simply cover the plant," says McEnany. "One variety to look for is Lotus Moon, which is cold hardy and it brings a mass of white blooms to a spring garden, which is especially needed in a northern garden." This plant prefers zones 4-7. McEnany recommends planting it in front of an evergreen shrub or tree for maximum impact—the shock of white against a colored backdrop as the garden awakens in spring is nothing short of breathtaking.
"Ninebark can be viewed as a utilitarian plant, but it has such fantastic multi-season interest," says McEnany. Newer varieties like Little Devil, Amber Jubilee, and Fireside are fantastically disease-resistant and full-sun-tolerant, with gorgeous foliage that changes from spring through fall and plentiful flowers come spring. Ninebark thrives in USDA zones 2-8. "My favorite new introduction is Fireside Ninebark because it has such incredible deep maroon foliage in spring accentuated by white flowers that absolutely pop in contrast. Ninebark is a great foundational and hedging plant, so to have such gorgeous contrast in spring takes that utilitarian plant and gives it character," he says.
If you want spring blooms, to feed the birds and earn some privacy for your backyard, serviceberry is the way to go, says McEnany. Depending on the cultivar, these shrubs (which sometimes grow into tree form) do well in zones 2-8. "Varieties like Standing Ovation, which has an obelisk shape, are fantastic in a hedge and burst with white flowers in spring that can turn to berries in June to feed the birds," he says.
Snow White Mockorange
This plant is a late spring-blooming flowering shrub that bursts onto the scene with white blooms and a tantalizing fragrance as your early bloomers begin to fade, says McEnany. "The cup-shaped flowers are so endearing and stand up well to full sun as you transition into summer," he says. It does best in zones 4-8.
Much like forsythia, quince branches can be grouped for a brilliant indoor display. In order to promote indoor growth, quince branches must be clipped on a diagonal and provided with both consistent hydration and balmy temperatures. Carr encourages gardeners to mind the large spines along the plant's stems when tending to quince. This prolific shrub with small flowers typically grows well in zones 5-8.
There are many different viburnum varieties, each offering sweet-smelling flowers and vivid colors. They commonly grow in zones 2-9. Bodnant viburnum in particular is renowned for its blush-hued, winter-blossoming flowers that lend life to an otherwise spare landscape.
"Spirea makes a great foundation shrub that can be easily pruned and hedged after flowering," Carr says. Spirea also happens to be a deer-resistant species, making the shrub an excellent choice for gardens that attract grazing animals. Most are well-suited for zones 4-8, although some varieties are adaptable to colder or warmer zones.
Perfect for those living in a colder climate, Crabapple thrives in zones 4-8, and the white, pink, and red blooms of this plant are a site to behold. "I have two favorite varieties based on your space," says McEnany. "If you have a smaller yard and need an upright grower, I love Gladiator Crabapple. It's got gorgeous dark red leaves that really show off the pink flowers in spring." It's neat, full of color, and a quick grower that is perfect for a home garden. "If you like a more draped look, Ruby Tears is a really interesting crabapple," he says. "I love this variety along a pathway leading into a garden. The branches create an archway that draws you in, especially with its alluring spring flowers and fragrance."