Air temperatures have begun to drop in most parts of the country, and in the Midwest we’ve even seen some heavy snowfall. But the soil is mainly still soft, which means you don’t have to stop planting yet. The cool weather also means that plants are less susceptible to heat and transplant trauma, and precipitation will help plants establish and store up energy for the next growing season.

Planting the metaphorical seeds for a delightful spring garden begins now. If your clients are dreaming of a colorful yard next spring, then there are lots of spring-emergent beauties that it’s not too late to install. There is, of course, an unpredictable cutoff: once the ground freezes solid, root growth will cease. Allow as much time as possible in soft ground so your plants can get established before going dormant.

Here are a few tough plants you can confidently install now before the freeze sets in.

Bulbs, corms, and tubers

As long as the ground isn’t frozen, it’s ok to plant bulbs. In fact, the very cool weather will prevent them from bolting and beginning their spring emergence prematurely. Plant these early-spring showstoppers now for a great spring display. For something other than the traditional tulips and daffodils, try irises. Irises are versatile and can be grown in many different climates. They bloom in several colors including blue and purple, white and yellow, pink and orange, brown and red, and even black. With so many colors to choose from, your clients can have a rainbow of options.

Hardy shrubs

The time has passed to plant small flowering perennials, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have dynamic flowering plants this spring. Shrubs that are large enough to resist frost-heave are perfect visual anchors in the residential landscape. Colloquially known as “foundation shrubs,” these plants are perfectly sized for aesthetic appeal—taller than perennials, but not as tall as trees. Hard shrubs that could be planted now include:

  • Hydrangea (paniculata varieties in the Midwest; macrophyllas in warmer areas)
  • Red-twig dogwood
  • Roses (check the variety for zone information before you plant)
  • Potentilla
  • Buddleia
  • Weigela
  • Spirea
  • Itea
  • Callicarpa


Trees are perhaps the easiest, most trustworthy item to plant before spring. Here are a few to consider:

  • Honey Locust
    grows fast, is pollution-tolerant
  • Freeman Maple
    grows fast, provides strongest fall color
  • European Hornbeam
    densely branched, very tough for any space
  • Japanese Tree Lilac
    highly ornamental, fragrant, adaptable

Though spring is certainly the busiest time for landscapers, there is a lot that can be done in anticipation of that busy season. Get some spring blooms in the ground before the freeze comes and be sure to insulate them as much as possible when you plant them.

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