Spring Ephemerals: Tips for Gardening with These Magical Plants

spring ephemerals virginia bluebells

Virginia bluebells is a spring ephemeral plant.

Ephemeral plants are those with a short growing cycle; they produce leaves, stems, flowers and fruits in a brief window when the weather is just right. As perennials, they then sit dormant until their next growing period, the following spring. They are an important early food source for pollinators.

Spring ephemerals are usually woodland wildflowers that can fit right into the shade garden. Some examples include trout lily (Erythronium), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and twin leaf (Jeffersonia diphylla).

Here are tips for using spring ephemerals:

  • Because spring ephemerals grow and bloom within a short window in early spring, perhaps before you’re out enjoying the garden, site them where they won’t be missed.  Place them alongside a walkway, in view of window or in other places that are conspicuous regardless of season.
  • Spring ephemerals are typically wildflowers native to woodlands, where they often grow along or near streams. You should research the specific requirements of any plant you’re adding to the garden, but you can expect that spring ephemerals will prefer a spot in deciduous shade with rich, moist soil. Enhance the soil yearly with a topdressing of compost and/or shredded leaves.
  • Because spring ephemerals quickly disappear after they’ve bloomed, they need companion plants that can carry on the show through summer and prevent weeds from settling in. Best bets are shade perennials that emerge after the ephemerals have bloomed; hosts and ferns, especially those that spread, are frequent choices.
  • Spring ephemerals can be planted while active in early spring or while dormant in late summer. Existing plants can be divided just after they bloom, as they begin to decline.

Image credit: DianeSchuler/iStock/Getty Images

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