Early blooming bulbous plants offer a breath of fresh air from the old chill of late winter. Many are well-suited for naturalizing, amplifying their cheerful colors as they spread freely and naturally in a pleasing, non-invasive, non-competitive manner. Known as “geophytes,” these plants are really just perennials that grow by underground bulbs, corms, rhizomes or tubers.

Adonis amurensis

The golden-flowered Adonis amurensis is best naturalized in small areas.

Photo Credit: Jessie Keith

Crocus tommasinianus

The rosy purple blooms of Crocus tommasinianus will light up your lawn.

Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman

Eranthis hyemalis

Masses of gold Eranthis hyemalis make a sunny impact when planted on south-facing hillsides.

Photo Credit: Jessie Keith

Galanthus nivalis

The white, honey-scented flowers of Galanthus nivalis remain closed in cold weather and open as the air warms.

Photo Credit: Jesse Saylor

Scilla siberica

Scilla siberica is a charming bulbous perennial that’s among the earliest of spring-blooming plants.

Photo Credit: Jesse Saylor

Early geophytes most commonly bloom for 2-3 weeks between January and March, depending on the hardiness zone in which they’re planted and the temperature of that given blooming season. This makes them some of the first flowers to emerge in late winter and early spring – if you plant at the right time, of course! Here are a few that are a must for every gardener’s flower beds and lawns in temperate North America:

Adonis amurensis (Amur Adonis) is an Asian native with lovely intricate, golden flowers that are sure to draw attention from passersby. The plant spreads slowly over time and is best naturalized in small areas. Flowers appear in late February to early March, and the plant’s ferny foliage remains until early summer. Typically sold at an average of $15-$20 each, Amur Adonis is the most expensive of the geophytes that I’m recommending, but trust me when I say it is amazingly beautiful in bloom and worth every penny!

There are lots of fantastic crocus species and cultivars suited for naturalizing, too. One of the best is Crocus tommasinianus (woodland crocus), which most often blooms in late February to early March. Its small, pale rose or purple flowers rise from the ground like delicate chalices. You can easily acquire a stunning sweep of crocus in your yard because the plant is generally inexpensive and its corms spread quickly.

Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite) is a pretty, golden-flowered ephemeral from the buttercup family. It’s one of the earliest of spring flowers, often appearing as early as January. It spreads easily and makes the biggest impression when planted along a south- facing hillside. Even though the plant is short-lived, it blankets the ground with gold when it’s planted and blooming en masse.

The drooping green and white flowers of Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop) look like skirted ladies. The plant tends to cluster and spread slowly, but it forms random sweeps of green and white across the lawn once established. Some years snowdrops can make their debut in mid-January, while in others they may not appear until late February. They look particularly beautiful when interplanted with colorful crocus.

The royal blue blooms of Scilla siberica (Siberian squill) most often appear in mid- to late March. Close-up, these 3- to 4-inch plants have flowers that look like tiny bluebells. Their bulbs spread very quickly, and the blooms are enjoyed by foraging bees. The loveliest cultivar is ‘Spring Beauty’, which has very deep blue flowers.

All of these geophytes should be planted in fall, and they need a sunny location with well-drained soil. Most spring bulb vendors and catalogs offer them toward summer’s end. For the best head start to a well-naturalized planting, distribute an ample number of bulbous plants randomly across the area you’re trying to colonize and plant them accordingly. You’ll be glad you did come spring!