For The Answer
Weekly Express-News Article
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Saturday, October 18, 2008
“Blooms for the Winter”
There are a relatively large number of flowers that bloom in cool weather. Some of the varieties do best if they are planted now. That list includes snapdragons, stocks, ornamental cabbage, dianthus, calendula and petunias. A month from now plant cyclamen, pansies and primula.
Snapdragons are the showiest flowers for winter color. They are available in red, purple, blue, yellow, white, pink and salmon.
The selection Rocket has been the favorite snapdragon for many years. They grow to 36 inches tall. Plant Rockets in full sun in the garden or a container. Rockets are somewhat top heavy. If you grow them in a container use one that is at least five gallons. Using an aluminum tomato cage placed in the container to prop up the snapdragon works very well. In the garden plant them against a taller plant, against a fence, or in en masse to reduce any chance of wind damage.
There are mid size (16 inch) and dwarf snapdragons (6inches) in addition to the Rockets. The dwarf versions make especially good borders to the winter garden. Snapdragons make a good cut flower.
Stocks are another great winter annual. The colors are not as intense as those of snapdragons and the blooms are more hidden in the foliage, but stocks have a wonderful fragrance. They also make an excellent cut flower. Use stocks in containers or rows in the garden. Plant them one foot apart. The selections available in area nurseries grow to about 18 inches tall.
If you want a formal look in the garden consider ornamental cabbage and kale. The plants are very uniform. Planted in rows they remind me of a military formation. The plants grow to about one foot tall and are available in red green or silver green. The Kale is available in selections that are more open and the leaves often have fringed edges. The ornamental cabbage forms dense colorful heads.
Ornamental kale and cabbage does reasonably well in half shade, but is most attractive in full sun.
Calendulas are gold or yellow and have the look of daisies so they are often used for winter color by gardeners who miss the warm weather.
Dianthus or pinks also attract butterflies in the winter garden. They generally grow to one foot tall, but some selections are only four inches tall. The flowers are some version of pink, lavender, red or white and quite often are bi-colored.
Dianthus are the most drought tolerant of the winter annuals. They will often last until July, especially if you trim them back in April. When you decide to discard the plant you will see why they are drought tolerant. They develop a tight root system that completely fills the container or the garden row.
There are a large
number of varieties of petunias from which to select. All of them do well in early winter or early
spring, but the best choices for a long season of bloom are the VIP, Laura Bush
and Wave. Of the three hardest
selections available on the
The best tactic on these winter annuals is to plant large transplants now so you can have the benefit of a fall bloom period and a spring bloom period. When cold weather arrives in December there is usually a break in the bloom until February.
Prepare the soil for winter annuals by adding two inches of compost and one cup of slow release or Winterizer fertilizer per 50 square feet. Fertilize containers with Osmocote and soluble formulas especially made for containers.