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GardenSMART :: Spring Ephemerals

Spring Ephemerals

By Lisa Bartlett, Smith Gilbert Gardens

Spring ephemeral noun 1. Any of various woodland wildflowers that appear above ground in early spring, flower and fruit, and die in a short two-month period.

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Spring ephemerals are some of the first plants to flower in the early spring long before most trees leaf out. They tend not to like the heat and will quickly disappear if temperatures get above 80 degrees. Spring ephemerals leaf out, bloom, go to seed, spread themselves about and then enter dormancy; they don't really die. All this happens in a two-month period, making them some of the most efficient of the flowering plants. That is what makes these plants so very special.

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If you would like to grow some of these lovely plants in your garden, here are some tips to get started:

    • Never under any circumstances collect seed or plants from the wild. Purchase your plants from reputable nurseries. They will be easier to grow and quicker to flower.
    • Buy and plant them in spring or early summer.
    • Choose a woodland-like site. They need rich soil, spring moisture, and summer shade. Prepare the bed ahead of time with a 3 - 4 inch topping of compost lightly worked in. Although ephemerals love spring rains, they don't like to sit in wet soil while dormant. Be sure the soil is well-draining with a fairly neutral soil pH.
    • They look best in mass plantings, but you can get them started with a handful of plants. If you start small, you'll have an easier time seeing what makes them happy. And if happy, many will spread on their own.
    • Planting plants such as hostas and ferns in the same beds assures that you will always have something of interest even when the Ephemerals are dormant.
    • Mulch or side dress annually with compost or shredded leaves. This is best done in very early spring before they appear.

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Your area of the country may have its own special and distinct Spring Ephemerals, but here are a few that are easy to find and grow.

Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva Pursh)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis )
Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa)
Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)
Dogtooth violet (Erythronium dens-canis)
Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)
Pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens)
Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
Sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus)
Shootingstar (Dodecatheon pulchellum)
Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
Squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis)
Toothwort (Dentaria diphylla)
Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)
Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica)
Yellowbell (Fritillaria pudica)

Not feeling up to growing your own? Take a walk in some of the wilder areas of your neighborhood. You never know what you might see popping up on a warmish day in early spring.

Lisa Bartlett is the Garden Manager of Smith Gilbert Gardens. Kennesaw Georgia's premier public garden, it is an established garden with over 3,000 species of plants, many rare. This garden stands out as an exceptional blend of art, history and horticulture, all creating a tranquil retreat from the city. 


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