After the grayness of winter, most gardeners crave the color of spring blooms. The earliest of these is Eranthis hyemalis, also known as winter aconite. These members of the ranunculus family are tough, beautiful, and easy to grow.
Growing Eranthis Hyemalis in Your Garden
The flowers of winter aconite are the first flowers to appear each year, often blooming in late winter while snow is still on the ground. Their cheerful yellow is a welcome sight! The single, bright yellow, bowl-shaped flowers are surrounded by green bracts, almost making them look like dual-colored, double blooms.
Eranthis hyemalis grows in low, round clumps that are around four to six inches tall and wide. After blooming, winter aconite's dark green leaves appear and stay through the summer until the plant goes dormant.
Winter aconites are hardy in Zones 4 through 7.
When to Plant Winter Aconite
Though eranthis hyemalis grow from tubers and not bulbs, they're still treated like spring-blooming bulbs, meaning that they should be planted in fall.
Plant winter aconite one to three inches apart and two to three inches deep. If you have heavy, dense soil, such as soil with a high clay content, then plant them around two inches deep.
It's a good idea to soak the tubers overnight before planting. This will help them plump up and get established more quickly in your garden.
Where to Plant Winter Aconite Eranthis: Light and Soil Requirements
Eranthis grows well in full sun to light shade.
It is adaptable to a wide variety of soils, but it needs good drainage. It will thrive in soil that's rich in organic matter, so adding a couple of inches of compost to the area before planting will help your winter aconite get off to a good start.
Watering and Fertilizing
Eranthis hyemalis requires constant moisture during its growing season but can tolerate dryness during summer dormancy.
Additional fertilizer isn't required, especially if you amend the soil with compost at planting time. To keep the nutrient level of the soil high, topdress the area with an inch or two of compost every fall.
Pruning Eranthis Hyemalis
Winter aconites are very low maintenance plants and don't require any pruning. If the appearance of the faded foliage at the end of summer bothers you, then it's fine to trim it away, but it isn't necessary.
Eranthis Hyemalis Pests and Diseases
Winter aconite are generally free of problems. Because they are poisonous, even deer and rabbits usually avoid them. The tubers may rot in very wet conditions.
Propagating Winter Aconite
Eranthis can be propagated by seed or by lifting tubers after flowering but before the leaves have completely died back. They dislike being disturbed, so collect tubers sparingly. They will naturalize in favorable conditions.
Most cultivars grow very easily from seed. However, there are a few that don't reliably produce viable seed, so you'll want to make sure the kind you're trying to grow from seed will actually germinate. 'Flora Plena,' for example, which is a popular cultivar, doesn't produce seed at all and can only be propagated via division.
Beautiful Eranthis Hyemalis to Grow in Your Garden
Most catalogs and garden centers carry the standard winter aconite, with bright yellow, single flowers. However, there are few other cultivars, and if you'd like a bit more variety, it may be worth looking for some of them. Your best bet here would be to find good mail-order sources.
Eranthis hyemalis 'Guinea Gold' has large flowers and unique bronze-tinted foliage.
Eranthis hyemalis 'Flora Plena' is a double-flowered cultivar that has large, ruffled green and yellow flowers. It doesn't produce seed, so it won't naturalize in your garden very quickly, which could be a positive or negative depending on how much you'd like the winter aconites in your garden to spread.
'Lady Mortagne' is a gorgeous, double-flowered variety that has bright yellow blooms. The flowers are a bit more open and less cup-shaped, than most winter aconites.
If you're looking for a really bright winter aconite, it would be worth it to try to track down some tubers of 'Orange Glow,' which has a stunning golden, orange-yellow color. Its blooms also tend to be a bit larger than those of most winter aconites.
Eranthis hyemalis 'Lightning' has super-vibrant, sulfur-yellow flowers that form a pronounced cup shape. 'Lightning' grows to about three inches tall.
If you want something unique, 'Schwefelglanz' might be just what you're looking for (and not just because of the fun-to-say name!) The blooms on this winter aconite are a pale straw color. Not only that, but the blooms are large and have delicate apricot veining along each petal. In English, 'Schwefelglanz' translates to "sulfur gloss," and that seems to be a perfect name for this beauty of an Eranthis.
Good Companions for Winter Aconite
Eranthis hyemalis look wonderful planted in large drifts under trees. They are also very attractive in rock gardens. Many gardeners plant some near the door, so they can enjoy the early bloom.
Some wonderful companions for winter aconite include:
Tiny but Mighty
Eranthis hyemalis are adorable, tiny little plants. They are rarely more than four to six inches tall… and yet, they pack such a punch of bright, cheery color that they deserve a spot in just about any garden. Plus, they're low-maintenance and pest-resistant. What more could a gardener ask for?