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Native Plants and Tips for Your Northwest Arkansas Spring Garden

trail with stone steps in woodland with purple flowers

Thunderstorms, warmer temperatures, and redbuds in bloom can only mean one thing –spring is here in Northwest Arkansas. Spring brings the promise of longer days, an awakening of insect and animal activity, and of course, lots of flowering plants. Daffodils and tulips, dogwoods, and pear trees are icons of this season, but here are few plants that would be great additions to your spring and early summer garden.


Foam flower with small white fringy blooms
Foam flower. Photo by Robert Smith. Courtesy of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center collection.

Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Drought tolerant, shade-loving, and generally low maintenance, foam flower will surprise you in the spring with its small, dainty, bottlebrush flowers and heart-shaped leaves.  This plant has the added benefit of growing as a ground cover by sending out runners, which are easy to control. Best suited to woodland settings, you’re sure to be pleasantly surprised at how well this plant does around tree roots and under tree canopies.


Virginia bluebells with blue and purple blooms
Virginia bluebells

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Native to Arkansas and many states eastward, Virginia bluebells are glorious along slopes and near moister areas. With a dazzling show of pink buds that open to purple, bell-shaped flowers, they are stunning in mass plantings and provide an early source of pollen and nectar for pollinators. In warmer weather, these ephemerals (plants marked by a short life cycle) will die back to the ground after setting seed, so it’s best to plant these among other plants (hostas and ferns, for example) whose foliage can fill in the blank spaces left behind.


Woodland phlox with purple blooms
Woodland phlox

Woodland Phlox (Phlox divartica)

Colorful, fragrant, and long-blooming, woodland phlox is a great harbinger of spring. This plant does best in dappled shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil but does show adaptability to clay soils. It can be considered drought tolerant once it has been established. It blooms for up to a month, making it a favorite source of nectar for butterflies including swallowtails, gray hairstreaks, and wester pygmy blues. It is a favorite food of deer too, so this plant will need protection.


Carolina allspice with purple-pink blooms
Carolina allspice

Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus)

Sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, sometimes not fragrant at all, the maroon flower of the Carolina allspice shrub will keep you guessing! With its glossy leaves and open habit, this makes for a great understory shrub in dappled shade. This plant is fairly drought tolerant once established but will be happiest with moist conditions. Look for new cultivars that boast flowers in shades of deep pink. If you are lucky, you may be able to find one called ‘Athens’ whose pale yellow flowers smell like grapefruit.


Fringe tree with small white fluffy blooms
Fringe tree. Photo by W.D. and Dolphia Bransford. Courtesy of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center collection.

Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)

Looking for a small tree that won’t overwhelm your landscape? Tired of seeing the same choices? Then try this Arkansas native! Fringe tree is a landscape-friendly choice, growing to 20 feet tall and 12-15 feet wide. In late spring, this tree is covered with white, “fringe-like” flowers that dangle from the tree branches. Both male and female trees produce flowers, but female plants have the added benefit of producing berries in the fall that are well-liked by many types of birds.


Blue-eyed grass with blue-purple blooms
Blue-eyed grass

Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

Blooming in late spring and early summer, blue-eyed grass will delight you with its small, pale blue flowers. It has grass-like foliage and a diminutive stature making it a perfect fit for small gardens where a textural contrast to other flowering plants is desired. It also works well as a ground cover and would look great planted under Carolina allspice or fringe tree. Blue-eyed grass prefers moist conditions and can be short-lived so when it self-sows (which it will) you’ll have plenty available for replacements.


Helpful Tips for Your Spring Garden:

  1. Spring is the perfect time to cut down your perennials and ornamental grasses. Most dried and left-over plant stalks can be cut down to the ground. Ornamental grasses should be cut down to within six inches of the ground.
  2. If you need to fertilize, try using an organic product like compost. Simply spread 1-2 inches of compost into your garden beds and gently rake into the existing soil.
  3. Early spring is a great time to transplant most shrubs and perennials. You can also “split” or divide many perennials to keep existing clumps healthy. Added bonus – you’ll have plants to move to other parts of your garden or give away to friends!
  4. When pruning shrubs in the spring, be sure to understand what type of wood your shrub blooms on. Some shrubs, like mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla), bloom on old wood (the previous year’s growth) and need to be pruned in late summer while other shrubs like bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) bloom on the current season’s growth or new wood.


Join Us for Garden Party

Be sure to take a walk around our grounds to see which of these plants you can find. Like this sort of challenge? Then join us for our first bioblitz during Garden Party on May 15 where we’ll be using the iNaturalist app to track the many creatures and plants that live on the grounds of Crystal Bridges. Download the app here.



Written by Samantha Best, outdoor interpretation specialist.