Pulmonaria saccharata

Pulmonaria saccharata, also known as Bethlehem sage

Even non-gardeners welcome the sight of early blooming perennials. Here are some early spring bloomers to look out for in the garden.

Iberis semperverins, known as candytuft, is a low-growing, mounded perennial that puts out numerous rounded tufts of flat white flowers, covering its slender evergreen foliage. These flowers make their appearance as early as March, and can be a sight to see when there are few blooms in the garden.

Requiring well-drained soils and full sun, they are commonly planted in rock gardens, or seen draping over a retention wall. Spring maintenance is important for attractive growth by cutting back or shearing the plant to one-third or one-half its size after it has bloomed. This practice prevents the plants from looking scraggily or being open in the center for the remainder of the year.

Candytuft is classified as a “subshrub” because overwintering buds are located above ground, whereas herbaceous perennials have a growing point is below ground. This evergreen subshrub benefits from snow cover for protection; a harsh winter may kill off its tips, which would require pruning in the spring.

If there is no snow cover, covering the foliage with evergreen boughs, a different style of mulching than many are used to, can protect against winter dryness and sun scorch. Even though the flowers look delectable, they are deer resistant.

Another welcomed early spring bloomer, Phlox subulata, or moss phlox, forms a mat of low-growing evergreen foliage that generates a bountiful cover of colorful flowers. These fragrant early spring bloomers come in array of colors from pink to magenta, with red, white, lavender, and even blue. Moss phlox would respond well to the slightly alkaline soil of Central Illinois.

Like the candytuft, shearing in spring after flowering will keep the plant tidy. Unlike candytuft, which does not like to be divided or transplanted, moss phlox may need division after flowering every three to five years to maintain vigor.

The next early spring bloomer is a great addition to a full-to-partial shade garden, boldly displaying pink buds that open to blue flowers on long and narrow silver-spotted foliage.

Pulmonaria saccharata, Bethlehem sage, is a favorite among horticulturists for its low maintenance, great mottled foliage, and early nectar for bumblebees. Long-tongued bees love the pink buds, and blue flowers indicate that pollination has occurred.

Remove flower stems after blooming to initiate basal growth of new leaves for the rest of the growing season. Plants do best in organically rich soils.

Kelly Allsup is the University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.

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