Welcome, Cape Ann Gardeners, to an Early Spring!


Spring is upon us, bringing an array of colors and a sense of renewal to Cape Ann’s gardens. Right now, it’s the perfect time to highlight the beauty of your surroundings.  Can you create a captivating focal point?  What about a pop of color?  There are lots of options right now, for integrating native plants and wildflowers for a touch of whimsy.  Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a newbie, these top 10 beautiful ideas will inspire you to start your early spring gardening. 

Explore the best flowers and vegetables to plant in April, or even plan ahead to May.  Let’s dive in.

Embracing Early Spring Gardening on Cape Ann

New Englanders know early spring gardening is a delicate dance with Mother Nature.  On Cape Ann, spring is filled with unpredictable weather, from late frosts to early bouts of heat, and it requires thoughtful planning and timely actions. 

Mulching is crucial in this season, protecting young plants from frost and retaining soil moisture.  Use organic materials like straw or leaves for a nutrient-rich mulch.  

For the early birds, it’s worth checking the soil temperature before planting.  Cool season vegetables, such as peas, carrots, and spinach, can be planted as soon as the soil warms to at least 45 degrees.  If you prefer to take cues from nature, wait for the Forsythia to bloom before sowing these crops.  

In West Gloucester, Cedar Rock Gardens’ Elise Smith announced its dates for seedling pre-orders and picks ups, both for spring vegetable seedlings like Hakurei Turnips, Swiss Chard and lettuces and for summer seedlings such as tomatoes, tomatillos and summer strawberries.  Much the same is the case in Essex at Blue Moon Farms, which will open in mid-April for the season and has been growing organic vegetable, herb, and flower plant seedlings since last month.

So, what native plants should home gardeners be thinking of for early spring?

Wildflowers: A Burst of Color in Your Garden

Cape Ann’s gardeners can also take advantage of the region’s native flora during this season.  The Virginia bluebell, for example, is an enchanting wildflower that thrives in the cool spring climate.

Consider also incorporating plants that serve a dual purpose.  Lilacs and sugar maples not only add color and structure to your garden but also thrive in the region’s cool climate.

Wildflowers offer a vibrant and low-maintenance option for your garden. In spring, they bring a burst of color and attract a variety of wildlife, adding life to your space.  New England is home to many native wildflowers that can brighten up your garden in the early spring.  One wildflower is the Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica), which grows 12 to 24 inches tall with oval, bluish-green leaves. 

This flower is a native species, and although it’s not as common in the wild as it used to be, it still thrives in many New England gardens. Other options for early spring blossoms include the Siberian squill and the single early tulip, which bloom alongside the daffodils and crocuses.

Native Shrubs: Providing Structure and Interest

Native shrubs are an essential part of New England gardens, providing structure and interest throughout the seasons.  These hardy plants can withstand the region’s unpredictable climate, offering greenery all year round and beautiful blooms in the spring.  One excellent native shrub is the Clethra alnifolia, also known as the summersweet or pink clethra.  This shrub boasts bright pink flowers and a delightful fragrance, making it a popular choice for New England gardens.

Other native shrubs to consider include:

Rhododendrons and Azaleas, which make dramatic focal points with their vivid spring flowers.

Lilacs (Syringa) and Hydrangeas are excellent choices for borders and backdrops.

Remember to choose shrubs that match your garden’s specific conditions, considering factors like sun exposure, soil type, and moisture level.

Perennials: Reliable Performers Year after Year

Perennial plants are the stalwarts of New England gardens.  Their resilience and adaptability to the region’s variable weather conditions make them a reliable choice for gardeners. Coneflowers, for example, provide a vibrant display and attract pollinators.  Astilbes, tolerant of full sun yet able to thrive in afternoon shade, are another excellent option.  Their vigorous growth and diverse color variations make them a visual delight.  Daylilies are also popular for their showy blooms and low maintenance needs.

Remember, perennials aren’t just about flowers.  They also include herbaceous plants and shrubs.  These offer more structure and can significantly enhance the overall appearance of your garden.

Lastly, ensure that your chosen perennials are suitable for your garden’s specific conditions, such as sun exposure and soil type, to guarantee their successful growth and development.

Trees: The Backbone of Your Landscape

Trees serve as the backbone of your landscape, offering shade, structure, and aesthetic appeal. Native trees to New England are highly recommended due to their adaptability to the regional climate. The Serviceberry tree (Amelanchier canadensis) is a popular choice, with its bright white blooms illuminating gardens in early April.  It stands at a mature height of 10-15 feet, making it an ideal size for most landscapes.  Another notable option is the Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial,’ a small deciduous tree that produces fragrant, waterlily-shaped flowers in early spring.

Moreover, the American hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is a slender shade tree that grows well in full sun to partial shade conditions.  For smaller spaces, consider the Redbud (Cercis canadensis) tree, known for its heart-shaped leaves and vibrant fall color.  Remember, the selection of trees should be based on your garden’s specific conditions, such as sun exposure, soil type, and space availability.