If you have not planted winter annuals, be of good cheer — there is still time. The idea of months without flowers is dreary indeed, especially when we can have an outstanding display of color from pansies, violas, Swiss chard and more all winter long. So instead of stopping your flower gardening for the year, try planting some cool season annuals.
When planting in December, be sure to choose strong, healthy plants with blooms on them. If you plant young, small plants during the later planting, you may wait until spring before you see any blooms.
Pansies are still the most popular of the cool season bedding plants and come in a variety of sizes, colors and types. The flowers have a velvety texture and bloom over a long period of time. To keep the plants blooming, be sure to remove spent flowers as they decline. Pansies thrive in cool weather and will bloom from now until hot weather causes them to decline next summer.
Violas are a smaller flowering winter annual, which I often think we have better luck with in Arkansas. They can tolerate more fluctuations of temperature, so can be planted earlier in the fall and will last later in the spring. Although the flowers are smaller, the plants are covered with blooms.
Snapdragons and dianthus are two other flowering options that have been lasting almost year-round with periods of blooms and resting periods throughout the summer and winter.
Don’t overlook leafy plants. From the edible Swiss chard, beets, mustard and kale to the ornamental kale and cabbage, these plants can last all winter and provide you with good color. If you plant the edible varieties you can have color and beauty, but eat them as well.
When planting seasonal color, it is best to plant in a mass of color so it can make a bigger impact. Plant the individual flowering plants four to six inches apart with the kale and cabbage a bit further apart. Winter annuals make a great companion planting for spring flowering bulbs. Simply dig up the bed, plant the bulbs first, cover them with soil, then plant the pansies or violas on top. The spring bulbs will come up right through the flowers for even more color in the spring.
Winter annuals also make ideal container plantings. If you live in an apartment or condominium, don’t think that you are excluded from planting winter color. Plant a container-full for your deck, patio or front porch. Regular watering will need to be included in their care — even when it is cold. It is especially important prior to a heavy freeze. They don’t need to be saturated, but they do need to be moist. If the plants are too dry heading into a cold-snap, there is no buffer to protect them. Most pansies and violas will freeze in really hard freezes, but they should defrost and keep on blooming. Most cool-season vegetables can tolerate temperatures to around 25 to 28 degrees without damage. But plants in containers may need a little more protection, since the soil space is limited, and it will get colder than soil in the ground.
Just because cold weather is here doesn’t mean our gardens should be without color. So if you haven’t planted winter annuals, go visit your local nursery, see what is available, and start planting.
Janet B. Carson is a horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.