Q: I really love the can’t-wait-for-spring look of flowers on bare branches. What shrubs can I plant to achieve this? — Karla Merrifield, Cleveland, Ohio
A: If you have room to accommodate a small tree, by all means invite a witch hazel, Hamamelis spp., into your garden. These beguiling cousins to corylopsis have hardy yellow to reddish-orange flowers that bloom as early as January or February. ‘Arnold Promise’ is a vigorous selection, with bright-yellow flowers in early spring. ‘Primavera’ and ‘Sunburst’ have softer, paler yellow blossoms. Or how about Cornelian cherry dogwoods, Cornus mas and C. officinalis? While not as well known as their showy white- and pink-bracted dogwood relatives, they are small trees that are enveloped in a yellow haze of tiny flowers before their leaves unfurl. For more color, don’t forget daphnes. These shrubs produce fragrant blooms early in the season. How early? That Daphne mezereum is called February daphne should give you a clue. Its rose-purple blossoms often provide the first sweet scent of the spring, and it’s hardy to zone 4. Less hardy D. genkwa (to zone 5) flowers in April or May, with violet blooms on long branches. There’s also the deciduous Rhododendron mucronulatum, an 8-foot-tall shrub that produces rosy lavender blooms in midspring. The classic for the look you desire is, of course, the magnolia, and none is earlier than Magnolia stellata. To me, the appearance of its white fragrant flowers says that the long wait for spring is over.