Countless flowers appear at once, exploding out of thin, bare branches. The grey lines of dormant limbs that crisscross the cloudy sky suddenly release blossoms in a flurry of pinks and whites. The fact that this happens each year makes it no less miraculous. With excitement, with relief, the presence of blossoms on flowering trees announces that Spring is here.
Planting a Spring-blooming tree is an investment in the annual exuberance of Spring itself. For some, one brief period of ephemeral beauty might seem frivolous to devote to such a significant amount of garden space—we live in an age where the most common request, often from novice gardeners, is that their statement landscape plants be evergreen, static, and unchanging. But it is the changeability of gardens that brings them fully to life and calls the gardener’s attention back in toward the space around them.
If the romance and absolute spectacle of a stories-high tree in full bloom doesn’t convince you of the value of Spring-flowering trees, their importance to pollinators along with their garden-worthiness, fragrance, and form surely should. And if space is limited in your landscape, we have specified our favorite flowering trees for small gardens in each section below.
Flowering Cherry Trees
Ornamental Cherry trees bring us into the beginning of Spring with their paradoxically fragile and abundant beauty. Their flowers emerge each year often before we really expect to see anything blooming at all. The buds that hold the flowers are scaly and small, and they open almost overnight, making them invisible one day and overwhelmed with flower the next. The pollen in each bloom is a critical food source for early-season bees.
The Festival of the Cherry Blossom, or “Sakura”, in Japan is a time to celebrate hope, renewal, and the fragility of life. Imagine bringing that sense of intention and quiet celebration of Spring’s promise into your own garden!
Akebono Yoshino Cherry
Snow Fountains Weeping Cherry
The Best Upright Flowering Cherry Trees
Prunus serrulata ‘Amanogawa’ – Ruffled light pink petals cover the branches of this narrow, upright cherry tree; ideal for small gardens, Amanogawa has healthy green, serrated leaves that bear brilliant orange and red fall color; 20-25′ tall by 4-8′ wide
Prunus x yedoensis ‘Akebono’ – Blushing pink flowers fade to white as they age and have a subtle fragrance; the bark is light and dark grey with characteristic horizontal pores or lenticels; the form of the Akebono Cherry tree, which means “Daybreak” in Japanese, is upright and spreading; 25-35′ tall by 25-40′ wide
Prunus x yedoensis ‘Yoshino’ – White petals offset brilliant pink stamens on one of the earliest cherry trees to bloom. The branches on this upright, vase-shaped tree form a pattern of wide limbs that reach upward at the tips; 30-50′ tall by 25-40′ wide
The Best Weeping Flowering Cherry Trees
Prunus subhirtella ‘Yae-shidare-higan’ – Pink, semi-double flowers are relatively long lasting and stand out against the dark branches of this layered, weeping Cherry tree; the sharply serrated, rich green leaves turn yellow in autumn; 15-20′ tall by 20-25′ wide
Prunus x ‘Snow Fountains’ – Clear white blooms run the length of weeping branches that hang from this Ornamental Cherry tree; with superior disease and insect resistance, Snow Fountains is a lovely tree for compact spaces; 8-15′ tall by 6-12′ wide
All Flowering Cherries perform best in full-sun exposure with moist, well-draining soil. Routine pruning to thin their branches may be necessary, and periodic cuts to shorten the length of weeping varieties should be performed as needed. Varieties have been selected for disease-resistance and for fewer requirements around spraying and maintenance.
Deciduous Magnolia Trees
Though perhaps not as popular as their evergreen, Southern relatives, deciduous Magnolias are completely arresting when in bloom. Their large, fuzzy grey buds are charismatic all Winter long before they erupt into astonishingly large flowers each Spring. The petals are fleshy and quite literally sparkle in the sunlight, thanks to cells that produce fragrant oils laced across each of the nearly palm-sized petals.
Available in the widest range of colors of any Spring-flowering tree, Magnolias bloom in soft yellows, clear whites, warm pinks, and rich purples. Disease-resistant and virtually maintenance free, a Magnolia is a prized choice for gardeners who want to fully embrace the unmatched drama of Spring.
Black Tulip Magnolia
Royal Star Magnolia
Our Favorite Deciduous Magnolias
Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Black Tulip’ – Rich magenta-purple, cup-shaped blooms appear on the bare limbs of this multi-trunked specimen tree; each blossom can be up to 6 inches across and has a clean fragrance; great for small gardens at 15-20′ tall by 6-10′ wide
Magnolia x ‘Butterflies’ – Clear yellow blooms smother bear branches on this early-blooming variety; flowers have narrow petals with bright orange stamens and have a strong, lemony fragrance; 25-30′ tall by 10-15′ wide
Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ – This classic Star Magnolia is the earliest to bloom, producing fragrant white, multi-petaled flowers as early as March; often grown as a large shrub, the plant is an excellent low-maintenance option for large or small landscapes ; 15-18′ tall by 10-12′ wide
Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ – Soft pink and white petals grace this rounded, multi-trunked tree; blossoms have many petals and grow 4 inches across with a clear, clean fragrance; 10-15′ tall by 10-15′ wide
Magnolia x ‘Sunsation’ – Large, golden-yellow flowers are streaked with sunset pinks at the base of each petal on this late-blooming, fragrant cultivar; perfect for small spaces, the form of the tree is quite narrow for a Magnolia; 20-25′ tall by 6-8′ wide
Magnolia x ‘Vulcan’ – Electric pink blooms cover this open-branched specimen tree; the fragrant blossoms are held upright with the outermost petals curving elegantly downward; 15-25′ tall by 10-15′ wide
All Deciduous Magnolias flower best in full sun and love soils that are high in organic matter. Beyond the removal of dead branches, Magnolias require very little pruning. Varieties have been selected to offer a broad range of flower color, branching habit, and overall form.
Flowering Dogwood Trees
Walk through any established neighborhood in Springtime and you’re sure to encounter a mature Dogwood in full bloom. They light up the landscape with their large, sturdy four-“petaled” flowers that are stunning in their profusion and modern simplicity. The elegance of a Dogwood tree, whether blooming in white or shades of pink and coral, is as much due to their layered, open habit as it is to their gorgeous array of flowers.
Flowering later than other Spring-blooming trees, Dogwoods plant us firmly in the season and signal that, at this point, there is no going back—the longer and brighter days are here to stay. Dogwood trees provide food for a huge range of bee species, and some butterflies use them as host plants. Thanks to modern breeding techniques, the latest introductions of Dogwoods are particularly disease resistant and perfectly suited to Pacific Northwest gardens.
Summer Gold Dogwood
Rosy Teacups Dogwood
The Best Flowering Dogwood Trees
Cornus kousa ‘Summer Fun’ – Cream and white variegated blooms flower on top of high-contrast white and green variegated foliage on this late-blooming tree; in autumn the foliage turns an ombre of red, orange, and pink before dropping to reveal a handsome branching structure; great for smaller gardens at 16-18′ tall by 10-15′ wide
Cornus kousa ‘Summer Gold’ – This small, specimen tree produces abundant white flowers over brilliant yellow and green variegated leaves; in fall, the green portion of the leaves turn rich burgundy while the outer yellow edges display vibrant magentas and reds; ideal tree for small landscapes at 7-8′ tall by 3-4′ wide
Cornus kousa ‘Rosy Teacups’ – Dramatic pink-to-rose flowers blanket the dense, low canopy of this new Dogwood cultivar; each bract/petal has generous round shape near the center and ends in a charming point at the end, making the individual flowers as lovely a sight as the display the entire tree produces; 20-25′ tall by 20-25′ wide
Cornus kousa var. chinensis ‘Milky Way’ – Bountiful white flowers are followed by distinctive red, edible berries; flowers are oval and pointed, and the shape is mimicked by the foliage, which has brilliant fall color; 15-20′ tall by 15-20′ wide
Cornus kousa ‘Venus’ – Round, pillowy white flowers cover this fast-growing specimen tree; a new introduction prized for its disease-resistance and drought tolerance; 15-20′ tall by 15-20′ wide
Dogwoods like soils that drain well but contain high organic matter content. They are well-suited to partial shade conditions as well as sunnier aspects. Dogwoods do not require much pruning when mature, though some initial guidance may be needed to form the canopies when young. Low-maintenance varieties have been selected that have improved establishment success rates.
Photos from Dennis’ 7 Dees, Monrovia, and Pride’s Corner