Flowering Dogwood

Early Blooming Shrubs Q&A

By Pat Curran, Horticulture Educator,

Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension
(published April 2011)

Question: I see some shrubs blooming with yellow flowers, but a friend said they were not Forsythia. What are they, and what other April-blooming shrubs are good?

Answer: The shrubs are probably Cornus mas, Cornelian cherry, a relative of the flowering dogwood (despite the name, there is no relation to Cornell University, and it's not a cherry!). The flowers bloom a little earlier and are a little more chartreuse than Forsythia, and the bushes grow bigger, sometimes more like a small tree. In addition, they have red fruits in the summer that are good for jelly, and old bushes may have nicely exfoliating bark.

A tough, old-fashioned shrub is flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa. This large shrub is best suited to the back of a shrub border, where it will bloom about the same time as Forsythia. Flower color varies from white to pink to crimson to peach to orangey-red. The rest of the year, it is just a twiggy green mass that may host birdnests and produce a few fruits for preserves. 'Cameo' is a 5' tall variety with peachy-pink double flowers and disease-resistant leaves.

Another April-blooming shrub is the 'PJM' Rhododendron group. These rhododendrons have small evergreen leaves that may turn purplish in the winter. 'PJM' comes in a very bright lavender-pink, while its relative 'April Snow' is white. Like all rhododendrons, they need acid soil, moist but well-drained. However, they are hardy to zone 4 and more tolerant of winter sun than most rhododendrons we can grow.

To learn how and when to prune shrubs, come to "Pruning Shrubs," on Monday, April 18, 2011, 7:00-8:30 pm, at Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension, 615 Willow Ave., Ithaca. As part of the Citizen Pruner Program training, this class is free to volunteers and open to the general public for $5. To sign up, please call 272-2292.

Ask a Gardener appears weekly in The Journal during the growing season. For answers to other garden, lawn, landscape and pest questions, call Cooperative Extension at 607-272-2292 or email: growline1@gmail.com. This article was written by Patricia Curran, horticulture program manager at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

Last updated January 29, 2021