Learn About The Care Of Winter Aconite Plants

Learn About The Care Of Winter Aconite Plants

By: Anne Baley

While a crocus is the traditional harbinger of warmer weather to come, one brightly colored flower beats even that early riser — the winter aconite (Eranthus hyemalis).

Beginning early in March, we northern gardeners begin to eagerly scour our gardens in search of a telltale sprig of green, a sign that spring is on the way and new growth is beginning.

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 (12 cm.) deep from the base of the tuber to the surface of the soil. Winter aconite is a small plant, no more than 4 inches (10 cm.) across for most plants, so don’t worry about crowding them out in the garden bed. Plant them about 6 inches (15 cm.) 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 (2.5 cm.) across and are held about 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm.) 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.

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Buttercup’s sturdy cousin blooms at the same time as snowdrops and brings the first yellow of the year. Winter Aconite or Eranthis originates in the forest, so these bulbs love soil that’s rich in humus. If you live in a cold climate, you’re in luck, because these flowers seem to do extra well when surrounded by snow.



Full sun or partial shade




When your DutchGrown Eranthis arrive and you can’t plant them immediately, it’s important to store them correctly: unpack them right away and put them in a dry place with plenty of air circulation, where the temperature is between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.


Like all flower bulbs, Eranthis need a cold period to develop their roots and get ready for spring. So once you feel fall’s first chill in the air, it’s time to get planting. If you live in hardiness zone 9 or higher, the soil won’t get cold enough for the root-developing process to happen, but you might consider forcing

Flower bulbs are tough cookies that are easy to grow, but one thing they hate is getting their feet wet: a bulb that is ‘bathing’ in water will rot in no time. So avoid soggy soil at all cost – this means places where you can still see puddles 5-6 hours after a rainstorm. Another thing you can do is to upgrade potentially soggy soil by adding organic material such as peat, bark or manure

Eranthis need the sun to grow, but though they adore basking in its glory all day, they can also do very well in places with dappled shade or scattered sunlight.

Eranthis will need to be planted deep enough that they won’t be affected by temperature variations above ground, either too warm or too cold.

The standard method for calculating the ideal depth is to dig a hole three times as deep as the bulb is high, and place the bulb at the bottom with its pointy end up. Since Eranthis grow less well when they have to fight for nutrients with their fellow bulbs, it’s best to plant them 3-4” apart.

To help the bulbs settle and grow roots quickly, it’s important to water them well after planting, but after that you won’t have to water them again. Now all you have to do is wait patiently for winter to do its magic underground, and spring to surprise you with the rewards of your work.

During blooming season, you generally don’t have to water your Eranthis, but you can water them when there hasn’t been any rain for 3-5 days.

After Eranthis have finished blooming, don’t cut the foliage straight away: through photosynthesis the leaves will create nutrients that the bulb will be needing for its next growing season. After a few weeks the foliage will automatically yellow and die back, and then you can remove it. Now the bulb will be going dormant, and won’t need any watering until next spring.

How to plant Eranthis in your garden:

  1. Wait until the soil is 60 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. In the North this will be in September or October, in the South in October or November.
  2. Pick a spot in your garden that has well-draining soil and gets full sun or partial shade.
  3. Plant the Eranthis bulbs about 2-3” deep and 3-4” apart, placing them in the ground with their pointy ends up.
  4. Water well once and wait for spring
  5. After the Eranthis have bloomed don’t cut off the foliage. Leave it until it’s completely withered and yellow, then remove.

Not suitable for container planting:

Eranthis doesn’t like to be disturbed or moved, so they’re not very suitable for container planting.

Eranthis Growing and Care Guide

Common Names: Winter Aconite, Wolf’s Bane.
Life Cycle: Hardy perennial.
Height: 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm).
Native: Europe, Asia.
Growing Region: Zones 4 to 9.
Flowers: Late in winter through to early spring.
Flower Details: Yellow. Cup-shaped.
Foliage: Herbaceous. Peltate. Notched. Bright Green.
Sow/plant: Usually grown from tubers as seed grown plants will not bear flowers for about four years.
Tuber: 3 to 5 inches (8 to 12 cm). Requires soaking for 24 hours before planting.
Seeds: Cover. Germination time: one month to one year. Spacing 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm).
Seed: Method 1: Seeds should first be sown into flats in the autumn. Next sink the flat into the ground in an area that offers shade, preferably close to a wall that faces north. Provide a glass/plastic covering. Keep an eye on the flats to ensure that the soil remains moist. Bring the flats indoors at the beginning of spring and keep at 60 to 70°F (16 to 21°C). Transplant seedlings towards the end of summer or early autumn.
Seed: Method 2: Mix seeds in a moist growing medium, then put in flats, wrap in a large plastic bag, then stratify by refrigeration for three weeks. Next bury the flat as described above. Once seedlings emerge transplant them to their final location.
Requirements and care: Full sunlight supply partial shade in the summer and autumn. Average soil, humus rich, moist soil. Regular watering during growing periods. Keep soil moist while growing. Propagate: Lift tubers and divide following flowering.
Miscellaneous: The Eranthis plant is described on both Roman and Greek mythology as it was the poison from this plant that Medea used in the attempt to murder Theseus.

Interesting facts about Eranthis:

Is Eranthis Poisonous?

In spite of much anecdotal information, there are no scientific reports of its toxicological properties. However, ingestion may cause mild stomach upset.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

This lovely native European woodland plant is a beauty to add to any garden. It typically blooms in mid-winter to early spring, producing a bright display of golden yellow buttercup-like flowers. The leaves are basal and divided into many leaflets. These herbaceous perennials grow only to about 15 cm (6 inches) tall. They often pop up through the snow, providing nectar for the season’s early bees and pollinators.

Winter Aconites prefer rich, moist and well drained soil. Grow them in partial shade to shield them from all-day sun. These plants look wonderful under trees and in rough grass, and will quickly spread and form a beautiful yellow carpet. They are excellent for rock gardens, beds and woodland gardens. They combine well with Snowdrops, Crocuses, Cyclamens and other early bulbs.

There are many cultivars of Winter Aconite that are wonderful, including ‘All Saints’ , ‘Dooze’, ‘Eberhard Fluche’, ‘EgonTreff’, ‘Flore Pleno’, ‘Gothenburg’, ‘Grünling’, ‘Lightning’, ‘Moonlight’, ‘Orange Glow’, ‘Pauline’, ‘Ruth Treff’, ‘Schlyters Orange’ and ‘Schwefelglanz’.

Plant Type:

Bulbs, Perennials


The flowers are yellow in most species, with some species being white flowered.

Winter Aconites-First Sign of Spring

Winter Aconites will push up through snow

Sunny yellow blooms fringed with a fringed ruff poking through snow is my first sign that spring has sprung. Eranthis hyamalis, or Winter Aconite, in the buttercup family, is a spring ephemeral, which means that it is a short-lived plant above ground with a burst of blooms, then disappears, remaining under ground until next winter.

From a few tubers, I have many

The plant takes advantage of the deciduous woodland canopy, flowering at the time of maximum sunlight reaching the forest floor, then completely dying back to its underground tuber after flowering. So, for about eight weeks starting in late February, I see the plant above ground, celebrate its arrival and the bees devour it! Flowering when little else is in bloom, the blossom is a very important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees. On a nice sunny day above 45 degrees in late winter, the bees are darting in and out of the blossoms, quickly taking advantage of the brief show of color. Deer leave it alone as well – another selling point!

Winter Aconites have a pretty green ruff surrounding the flower

Resembling little buttercups, you can start with dried tiny bulbs, or tubers, in the fall along with other fall planted bulbs.

Plant Winter Aconites along with your other spring blooming bulbs

But Aconites are much easier to establish with “green” transplants. That simply means that you dig up the actively growing plants, separate them, and plant in a new location. Know someone with a nice spread of these flowers? Then, bring your friend a gift and take some home for your own starters.

Separate the tubers while actively growing to spread around

I have often transplanted my plants to new locations so that the sunny yellow flowers are popping up all over my property. And yes, I hand them out to needy garden friends! The foliage dies back about the same time as lawn mowing begins and I just let the foliage wither and die back naturally. By the time the foliage dies back, it is time to plant annuals in the same spot vacated by the Aconites.

Bees flock to the early offerings of nectar and pollen

I started my Winter Aconites with corms which resemble a dried pea by planting them five inches deep and waiting to see how many emerged in the spring Only about 25% of the corms sprouted but that was enough to start my stock going for years to come as they will seed in. I have read that the little flowers can become invasive by reseeding in odd places, but I welcome all comers!

Bees bathe in the pollen

Such a cheerful little flower that is attractive to all pollinators is welcome in my garden anytime. A good companion to Snowdrops, Winter Aconites will live for years without any disturbance. The flowers push up through a stand of Germander and other thick ground covers and stick around for weeks, opening when the sun comes out warming them, and closing when nightfall comes.

Snowdrops are good companion plantings Bring the little blooms in to brighten your home and they are extremely fragrant!

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For more information about planting and buying these wonderful spring flowers, go to Fall Planting Guide at Longfield Gardens. Put these on your calendar for fall ordering.

Good companions

Aconites share an ecological niche with snowdrops and the two grow and flower well together. But they're vigorous and are likely to swamp crocuses and other slower-growing bulbs and tubers. Blue pulmonarias have a contrasting appearance and like similar shady conditions.

The fading foliage makes it impractical to grow aconites with spring bedding - pansies or polyanthus - but they work well alongside robust herbaceous plants such as hardy geraniums and asters. Use them to fill gaps towards the back of the border where the leaves will be less of an eyesore.

Watch the video: How to Plant Bluebells