For The Answer
Express-News Weekly Column
November is the month that we plant several of the annual flowers that provide color until April.
In shade, cyclamen is the flower of choice. Transplants are available at nurseries now in deep red, white, pink, and a lavender-pink. Cyclamen is not an inexpensive plant; $3 to $4 for a 4-inch container, but when you see the blooms you will realize that it is worth the cost. The plant will bloom all winter as long as it does not get too much sun and is kept watered but not soggy. Fertilize with soluble fertilizer every few weeks.
Even the foliage is spectacular. The leaves are a patterned lush green. They rise from the base of the plant on stems 5 or 6 inches tall and are 3 to 4 inches across. They remind me of a cross between caladium and African violet leaves.
I use cyclamen in containers near our front door and in a long, narrow bed in front of the house. Use them in solid colors or mix white with any of the other colors. Milbergers Nursery has a bed about 40 feet long and 4 or 5 feet wide in its turf display areas, if you want to see an effective use of red and white together.
For several years now, I have been trying to over-summer the plants without much luck. This year, I am going to try to leave the plants in one-gallon containers in a shady spot and actually keep a few leaves alive. Letting them dry out in the house did not work this summer. Even if I am never successful in saving my plants from one winter to the next, you will always find cyclamen in my winter landscape.
Pansies are the plant for the winter annual bed if you have at least six hours of sun. There is a large selection of colors and several flower patterns. The Majestic Giants produce flowers up to 3 inches across. They have a monkey face (black inner color) and are available in blue, violet, yellow, white, and red-brown. The smaller monkey-faced selections like Antique offer light blue in addition to the colors listed for the large-flowered pansies. Crystal Bowl, Crown, and Universal are three of the clear-faced pansies. They are available in the same colors as Antique plus orange. Johnny Jump-ups have dime-size blooms with blue or yellow flowers. Violas are a version of the family that have blooms intermediate in size between pansies and Johnny Jump-ups. Some of the pansy family have fragrant flowers. In my experience, yellow is the most fragrant bloom.
Plant pansies about one foot apart in well prepared soil enriched with compost. Fertilize before planting with one cup of slow-release lawn fertilizer for every 50 sq. ft. of bed. Fertilize every few weeks with soluble fertilizer after planting. Live oak leaves or pulverized autumn leaves make a great mulch for both cyclamen and pansies. Drip irrigation is the best watering method for all annual flowers. Pansies are not as drainage-sensitive as cyclamen but will rot quickly in poorly drained soil. Deer, slugs, snails, and pill bugs love pansies. I have had the deer munch on flats of pansies sitting by the flowerbed where I unloaded them from my truck as I went in for a break before planting. The deer must be fenced away from pansies.
Slug and snail bait or beer traps will protect the pansies from pill bugs and the slugs and snails.
Cyclamen and pansies are the premiere winter color plants for shade and sun, respectively, but you also have other choices.
Primula is a winter bloomer for the shade in South Texas. Its growth habit resembles pansies but the colors are more striking and include several shades of red.
In the sun, use snapdragons, stocks, ornamental kale or cabbage, calendula, allysum, dianthus, and nasturtium. Dianthus (pinks) are the cold weather annual that survives longest into the summer. If you prune off a third of the top in March, it may bloom well into June. Use large transplants of snapdragons, stocks, kale, and cabbage if they are planted now. Nasturtium may even be planted by seed.