In Vermont, each passing season is distinctly marked by nature. In the shift from summer to fall, lush greens turn into the brilliant red, yellows, and oranges of foliage season. Winter comes in stages, with December snow following the “stick season” that defines November. January brings both a welcome thaw and a bitter cold snap. By the end of February, maple season picks up steam as the days get a little warmer, though most nights still hold a chill worthy of flannel sheets. Winding dirt roads turn muddy, with snowmelt giving way to damp earth as the thaw of spring settles in. As March winds to a close, the taps of maple season are pulled from the trees and new life begins to stir. As buds begin to “pop” on trees and bushes, early spring flowers begin to bloom.
Among the first spring flowers of Vermont are crocuses, which vary in color, and grow to be about 4-5 inches tall. They grow easily, coming back year after year with little maintenance, and even have a tendency to multiply and spread over time. If you’re planting your own, we recommend planting in groups of at least 6-8 bulbs. The more bulbs, the more impressive the display. Each bulb yields 1-3 flowers depending on its size and age. Crocus bulbs should be planted in early to mid-autumn, about 6 weeks before the first hard frost. This gives them time to settle in before the ground freezes. Bulbs should be planted about 3 inches deep and about 2-3 inches apart.
When crocuses begin blooming, you know the daffodils aren’t far behind. Like crocuses, daffodils grow from bulbs that need to be planted in the fall. Each bulb yields about 3 flowers, and we recommend planting them in groups of 10 or more. When you think of daffodils, you’re likely to imagine the popular golden yellow variety, but they come in other shades as well, including whites, pinks, and pastel oranges, and in single and double blooms.
Right about the same time as daffodils bloom, so do hyacinth. Only one flower comes from each bulb, but they can grow up to 12 inches tall. If you’re planting hyacinth, we recommend planting between 5-9 bulbs, and avoid planting them in a straight line for a more natural look.
In Vermont where the ground stays frozen for a long stretch of time, hyacinths come back every year, often larger and fuller than the year before. However, in warmer climates where the bulbs aren’t exposed to as much cold, hyacinth are sometimes treated as annuals by gardeners. The flowers that bloom the first spring after planting will be the fullest. When they return the following year, their stems will be thinner and their blooms will have fewer florets. Because of this, some folks dig up their hyacinth bulbs each year after they finish flowering and plant new bulbs in the fall.
Like the others above, tulips are grown from bulbs planted in the fall. Each bulb will grow one flower. We recommend planting about 7-10 bulbs per square foot for a full display. Tulip bulbs should be planted about 6-8 inches deep, and about 2-3 inches apart. These charming flowers come in nearly every color you can imagine, and some even feature multiple tones in a single bloom.
Planting tip: Critters, like squirrels and groundhogs, enjoy chewing on tulips and crocus bulbs, but they leave daffodils and hyacinth alone. To keep critters away, try planting crocus and tulip bulbs with a dash of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes.
Another flower that kicks off Vermont’s flower season is blue squill, a darling, low-growing flower that creates a colorful carpet of tiny blooms.. To plant a patch of blue squill, choose an area that gets full morning sun. These bulbs should be planted in the fall and spaced about 2-3 inches apart and 3-5 inches deep. To prevent blue squill from spreading, simply remove the blooms as the leaves start to yellow and before it turns to seed. This can be done by hand or by mowing.
Our list of Vermont’s spring flowers wouldn’t be complete without mentioning red clover–Vermont’s state flower. Red clover was declared the Vermont state flower in 1895 and was chosen to represent farms and fields throughout the state. It blooms a little later than the rest of the flowers on this list, and is grown from seeds instead of bulbs. To plant your own, simply scatter the seeds on a well-prepared bed of soil and dust lightly with soil. Red clover can be planted in April or August. It is grown as food for livestock, but is also safe for humans to eat. The leaves can be tossed in a salad or used to make tea, but the most desirable part of this pretty plant is the flower itself. Red clovers are the tastiest of all the varieties of clovers as their nectar is quite sweet.
By the time all these flowers have bloomed, spring in Vermont will have truly sprung. A late-season snowfall or two might surprise us along the way, but as April gives way to May, the world around us turns to lush shades of greens and new life abounds.