Cheerful clumps of winter aconite greet spring.

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is one of the earliest bulbs to bloom in spring. This plant in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), native to Asia Minor and Europe, has small flowers that resemble tiny buttercups. The solitary, yellow cup-shaped flowers are surrounded by bright green bracts that look like a collar around the blossom. There are six petals in each flower and numerous stamens and pistils in the center. This small tuberous perennial is hardy in zones 4-7 (probably in zone 3 if mulched in the winter).

Winter aconite has bright yellow flowers.

The low-growing plants form rounded clumps about (3-6″) tall and wide. The dark green leaves appear after the flowers fade. Each narrow leaf is divided into several finger-shaped lobes. In summer the plant goes dormant, with the foliage dying back completely.

The leaves appear after the flowers fade.

If you have small children or pets that are likely to dig in the garden you may not want winter aconite in your yard as the entire plant, but especially the tuber, is quite poisonous and may cause nausea, vomiting, colic attacks and visual disturbances.

Flowers appear very early in the spring.

This ground-hugging plant works well in rock gardens, flower beds and woodland gardens. The flowers first appear in the sunniest spots, just before the first snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) begin to bloom. They can look charming together planted in the border or naturalized in the lawn. Winter aconite is good for naturalizing under trees and large shrubs. They combine nicely with hellebores and echo the flower color of forsythia and witch hazel (Hamamelis). Because of their small size, they are best planted in groups.

Winter aconite can naturalize under the right conditions.

Plant purchased “bulbs” in the fall. If the tubers are shriveled, place them in moist sand or peat moss for a few days to rehydrate. Place about 1-3″ apart and 2-3″ deep (shallower in heavier soils). The plants prefer humus-rich, well-drained but not dry soil. Plants from bulbs tend to be slow to establish large colonies.

When growing in conditions it likes, winter aconite reproduces easily and spreads readily to form large colonies – almost to the point of being invasive. Lift clumps while still green to keep under control, if desired, or when overcrowded. To propagate, divide the clumps after flowering or collect seeds to sow in the fall.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


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Winter aconite ( Eranthis hyemalis) is one of the first plants to flower in late winter/early spring, often blooming before crocuses. Some years they even push through the snow in order to bloom. They are an early source of nectar for insects and bees. Prefering evenly moist soil in full sun to part shade, they will spread and naturalize, to the point of being invasive in some cases. But large colonies of them, especially in a woodland setting, is hard to consider invasive. The plant is toxic, and therefore seldom bothered by deer, rabbits, or unbenefficial insects. After flowering and setting seed, the foliage will die back, making room for other plants that bloom later in the season.

It is one of the plants we look so forward to in early spring. A burst of bright yellow flowers amongst the otherwise drab landscape. We have a nice bunch growing just beneath the arbor and along the footpath to the house. We pass it many times a day and because it blooms before most other plants, it truly takes center stage. A Fernwood favorite and one we often recommend to our customers.

Learn About The Care Of Winter Aconite Plants

Beginning early in March, northern gardeners begin to eagerly scour their gardens in search of a telltale sprig of green, a sign that spring is on the way and new growth is beginning. The crocus is the traditional harbinger of warmer weather to come, but one brightly colored flower beats even that early riser — the winter aconite (Eranthus hyemalis).

Winter aconite plants frequently come up through the snow, don’t mind a small amount of frost and will open their buttercup-like blooms at the earliest chance. For gardeners who like to plant perennials that greet you in the spring, learning about winter aconite can provide valuable information.

Care of Winter Aconite Plants

Unlike tulips and crocus, winter aconite bulbs aren’t actually bulbs at all but tubers. These fleshy roots store moisture and food for the plant’s growth and hibernation over the winter just like a bulb does. They should be planted late in the fall at the same time you dig in the other spring-flowering bulbs.

These small tubers need to be well-protected from harsh winter weather, so plant them about 5 inches deep from the base of the tuber to the surface of the soil. Winter aconite is a small plant, no more than 4 inches across for most plants, so don’t worry about crowding them out in the garden bed. Plant them about 6 inches apart to allow room for spreading, and bury them in groups of odd numbers for the most attractive display.

Early in the spring, you’ll see green shoots appear, then shortly after you’ll find bright yellow flowers that look like tiny buttercups. These blooms are no more than an inch across and are held about 3 to 4 inches above the ground. The growing winter aconite will fade away after a few days, leaving an attractive crop of foliage to cover spring mud until later flowers appear.

The care of winter aconite consists mainly of simply leaving it alone to live and thrive. As long as you have planted the tubers in fertile, well-drained soil, they will grow and spread year after year.

Do not dig up the plants when they are done blooming. Allow the foliage to die back naturally. By the time your lawn is ready to mow, the leaves on the winter aconite will be withered and browned, ready to be cut off along with the first blades of grass of the year.

Spring Planting of Aconites in the Green

Aconite Planting Advice

Aconites in the green are aconites that were lifted while in leaf and sometimes also when in flower. The reason for this is that, as long as they are replanted within a fairly short time, they tend to settle in more quickly than their stored and dried equivalents. Aconite populations are are on the decline and so you should ensure that the tubers you buy are from stocks which have been cultivated specifically for lifting and resale (as ours are). Please do not buy plants that have been harvested in the wild.
Plants in the green do need to be handled and planted with care so they do not deteriorate. If you would like see more, browse our range of bulbs in the green. Remember you will need about 60-75 aconites per square metre.

So the important rules for planting bulbs in the green are as follows:

  • Aconites need soil that does not dry out. This is why they prefer a location that is sunny in winter but shaded in summer. Under deciduous trees is ideal.
  • The ground where they are to planted should be enriched with compost or other well rotted organic matter.
  • Prepare the planting site well in advance of delivery of your plants so everything is ready when they arrive. You want to get them planted as quickly as possible
  • Plant about 60-75 aconites per square metre; like most spring flowering bulbs they are best planted in drifts.
  • The tubers should be unpacked on receipt and not left in an airless container. Keep them in a cool and well ventilated place. Spray the tubers and foliage lightly with water to stop them desiccating before planting.
  • Aconites should be planted immediately as all bulbs in the green lose condition unless they are planted within 3 days of receipt.
  • Planted them at the same depth that they were growing before they were lifted; you can see where this was from the level at which the leaves change from white to green. Everything white was below soil level before lifting. If you are not sure then about 8-10 cms will be OK.
  • Winter aconites spread underground and so you want to plant them with room to grow.
  • Never cut or mow aconite leaves or stems until they have completely died back.
  • Lift, separate and then replant overcrowded areas immediately after flowering (just follow these instructions for replanting)

And if aconites are not for you, or maybe you do not fancy the quick planting needed for bulbs in the green, then why not have a look at the rest of our flowering bulbs which you can plant in autumn?

Winter Aconite

Winter Aconite

Celebrate the end of cold weather with winter aconite, one of the first blooming plants you’ll see in your yard before spring actually arrives. It sometimes appears so early (before crocus!) that the buttercup-like flowers burst up and out of the snow. This plant catches the eye in beds and borders, along pathways, and when mixed with crocus and other ephemerals in the lawn.

genus name
  • Eranthis hyemalis
light
  • Sun
plant type
  • Bulb
height
  • Under 6 inches,
  • 6 to 12 inches
width
  • 3 to 6 inches
flower color
  • Yellow
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Spring Bloom
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant
special features
  • Low Maintenance
zones
  • 3,
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7
propagation
  • Division,
  • Seed

Winter Aconite Care Must-Knows

Winter aconite grows and blooms best in a spot that receives full sun (at least 6 or so hours of direct light per day in early spring). Because its growth starts so early in the season, this spring-blooming bulb can be planted beneath deciduous trees such as maples and oaks. By the time the trees leaf out, winter aconite has already put on its show and is getting ready to rest. Once the plant goes dormant in early spring, its foliage disappears until the following year.

For best results, grow winter aconite in moist, well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. It is native to the woodlands of Europe, and as such, is used to soil that’s full of decomposing leaves and other materials. If your soil claims an especially high sand or clay content, augment it with compost or well-rotted manure at planting time. Top-dress the soil each fall with an inch or two of compost to keep your winter aconite happy.

Find out how organic matter helps your soil.

Winter aconite doesn’t require any pruning or special care after planting. Because it blooms in March or April (but as early in February during mild winters) and goes dormant before summer, it can be helpful to mark where you plant them. That way you don’t accidently dig up winter aconite if you site other plants in the garden for summer interest.

Like other spring-blooming bulbs, winter aconite is best planted in early fall. Look for evenly colored, firm tubers that don’t feel limp or dried out. Many gardeners find success by soaking the tubers in water for a few hours before planting them. Plant tubers an inch or two deep and water them well after planting. Winter aconite’s bulbs don’t like to dry out in the fall, as they’re busy sending out roots.

Unlike many other spring-blooming bulbs, winter aconite doesn’t appeal to pests such as deer, rabbits, and rodents. That makes it an ideal choice for adding early spring color to yards where these critters frequently visit.

Care for your spring bulbs properly using this guide.

Using Winter Aconite

Plant winter aconite where you can see and enjoy its short, two-week-long blooming season. In addition, its tiny flower grows only 6 inches tall or less. With those stats in mind, you may want to plant these bulbs in garden beds and borders near the driveway or along a sidewalk you use frequently.

Winter aconite is also a classic choice for adding start-of-the-season color to woodland gardens. It thrives beneath deciduous trees with other woodland plants such as yellow corydalis, bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), trillium (Trillium erectum), hepatica (Hepatica transsilvancia), and lungwort (Pumonaria saccharata).

Its early bloom season makes winter aconite an interesting choice for naturalizing in your lawn alongside other favorites such as crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) and snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis). The foliage usually starts to go dormant when you’re ready to mow for the first time of the season. Tip: In terms of lawns, winter aconite does best in areas where irrigation takes place during summer dry spells, and where there is not a lot of foot traffic compacting the soil.

To keep your winter aconite happiest, plant it in a spot where it won’t be disturbed while it’s dormant. To avoid bare areas in your beds and borders, plant winter aconite with groundcovers such as vinca (Vinca minor), green and gold Chrysogonum virginianum, or wild ginger (Asarum canadense).

Plant Winter Aconite With:

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Netted iris

Early-spring blooming iris reticulata is a good match for winter aconite because the two plants’ bloom times often overlap. (Winter aconite is finishing as Iris reticulata is getting started). The pairing creates an outstanding contrast of complementary colors: blue or purple from iris with bright, golden-yellow from winter aconite.

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Snowdrop

Snowdrops and winter aconites both enjoy the same growing conditions: sunny and planted in moist, but well-drained soil rich in organic matter. They also bloom around the same time, so you can enjoy snowdrop’s white, butterfly-shape blossoms right alongside winter aconite’s golden-yellow buttercups.

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Hellebore

One of the earliest perennials to bloom in spring, hellebores sport leathery, semievergreen foliage, which means the foliage looks good throughout the winter in some, but not all, areas where the plant is hardy. Hellebores help draw attention to winter aconite when it is in bloom. Both plants are similarly pest-resistant.

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Eranthis cilicica

Commonly called Winter Buttercup, this closely related species has similar, but larger, yellow buttercup-shape flowers.

The Yellow of Winter Aconite Warms Gardeners Heart – Even Though the Temperatures Remain Cold

Gardeners are always looking for signs of spring. Although the calendar tells us it is officially spring, Mother-Nature can sometimes send mixed messages.

The brightly colored yellow flowers of the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) covering the ground might be just the sign that spring has arrived – at least we hope. Winter aconites are a bulb that will naturalize, creating a blanket of yellow flowers for all to enjoy. In fact, the bees were busy visiting one flower after another while I was out enjoying a walk around the Toledo Botanical Garden.

Photo Credit: Amy Stone, OSU Extension – Lucas County

The winter aconite is in the family Ranunculaceae. The plant prefers full sun to partial shade. One of my favorite sites to enjoy a naturalized stand is in a woodland garden that later this year will be dominated by shade produced by the mature trees, but in late winter and early spring it is just the perfect setting for these bulbs to show their horticultural-stuff.

It is also thought that the winter aconites can be grown among black walnut trees and that deer don’t particularly care for them. I have even enjoyed them peaking up through a blanket of snow. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case when I captured the images earlier this week.

If you are establishing this plant in the landscape, you will want to plant tubers 2-3″ deep and 3″ apart in late summer to early fall. It is recommended that you soak tubers overnight before planting. Once established, you may notice some self-seeding and naturalizing over time in optimum growing conditions. They tend not to like being disturbed or moved frequently. It is best to identify the location and let them live out their lives in that spot.

The plant is native to Europe. The genus (Eranthis) comes from the Greek words er meaning spring and anthos meaning a flower for its very early flowering. The specific epithet (hyemalis) means of winter or winter blooming.

Winter aconites can make a great addition to the front of perennial or shrub borders, in among the rocks in a rock garden, alongside pathways or walkways, and will also do well in containers. They are eye catching in masses and large numbers. Just remember that because they bloom so early in the season, don’t tuck them away in a far corner of the garden, but rather plant them somewhere they can be appreciated and enjoyed even if it is cold outside.

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