Bulbs · Butterflies & Bees in the Garden

Winter Aconites proclaim spring is on its way!

Eranthis hyemalis, Winter Aconite

You have to love a sunny yellow flower that pops up from the ground, often snow-covered, just when you think you can’t take another drab winter day. Winter aconites are some of the earliest spring bloomers in Chicagoland, reassuring us that spring is on its way.

Eranthis hyemalis, as winter aconites are botanically named, are relatives of the buttercup family and native to southern Europe. They are hardy in zones 3 to 7.

Eranthis hyemalis, Winter Aconite

Card-carrying members of the small-but-mighty club, winter aconites grow just three or four inches tall, but their sunny yellow, cup-shaped flowers with bright yellow stamens glow above collars of dark green leaves in March, sometimes sooner.

Basal green leaves emerge after the flowers have faded. They, too, disappear by late spring or early summer when the bulb goes dormant.

Usually available in packages of 5 to 20 and sold beside crocus, scilla and grape hyacinths in the fall, winter aconites are actually small tubers. Plant them, after soaking overnight, 2 to 3 inches deep and apart in September. If given a choice, they would choose a spot with well-drained soil rich with organic matter, sun-drenched in spring but shaded by deciduous trees the rest of the season. Winter aconites prefer soil that stays slightly moist but can adapt to drier soils. They cannot, however, tolerate soggy soil.

Eranthis hyemalis, Winter Aconite

Give them their preferred conditions and they spread into large colonies. Bees love them and are thankful for the early-season source of pollen. Thankfully, deer, rabbits and other garden rodents do not like them. Winter aconites will even grow over the juglone-producing roots of black walnuts.

Eranthis hyemalis, Winter Aconite

Plant winter aconites in rock gardens and at the bases of deciduous shrubs and trees. Let them naturalize in woodland borders. Plant them under kitchen windows where they can be appreciated from indoors. Do like I do and plant them between perennials in sunny borders. They provide color while perennials are still sleeping and when the perennials wake up and bulk up, they shade the winter aconites as they retire for the season.

Wherever you plant them, just plant them. And next year, they will welcome you to spring.

Garden with me!

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