For The Answer
We have had a number of days with freezing temperatures. If you had impatiens or begonias in the shade, they are probably frozen back. To fill the space left vacant by the dead plants, or if you just want more color in the drab winter landscape, here are some options to consider.
This week is probably the last time we can plant sweet peas and expect them to produce blooms. The fragrance is wonderful and they make great cut flowers. Plant a few of the old fashioned climbing sweet peas on one of your tomato cages.
Primula is a spectacular winter bloomer. There seem to be two versions in area nurseries. The “Acaulis” have always been a favorite. The bloom colors are unbelievably intense, no subtlety here. Red, yellow, white, scarlet and blue. Do you remember the clowns in the circus with their painted faces? Those are the colors of “Acaulis” primula blooms. The foliage is also attractive. The leaves are dark green and crinkly. This variety of primula grows just like pansies with the leaves and blooms close to the ground.
Up until this year I ignored the other primulas but one variety, “Obonica” has attracted my attention. It is relatively tall at 8-10 inches and is topped by a cluster of blooms in several pastel colors including blue, pink and white. The “Obonica” in my yard receives shade most of the day but are in direct sun for about 2 hours. They do not need the direct light but can tolerate some. Primulas maintain blooms every day as long as temperatures remain cool. Primula is also called primrose. An essential part of primula care is to protect the plants from pill bugs, slugs and snails. Slug bait works well. My plants in large containers have not been bothered this year, but when temperatures stay mild for a while, the pests will find them. If you use the pellets, the bait lasts longer than the smaller flakes.
Cyclamen is another great blooming plant for the winter shade garden. The bloom colors are intense red, pink, lavender or white. The 6-8 inch plants will bloom everyday until late April in the same conditions as primula. The white is especially good for deep shade because the blooms brighten up the area. Again, protect the plants from slugs, snails and pill bugs.
It is not too late to enjoy the blooms of pansies. Plant them in full sun to bloom continuously from now until late April or early May. The yellow blooming selections seem to be most fragrant. Other colors that are available include blue, brown, orange, white, salmon and violet. Pansies can be clear faced or monkey-faced (dark center). Stocks (also very fragrant), snapdragons and calendula are also still available on the market at bargain prices. They will produce their best blooms in February, March and April. Snapdragons are not eaten by the deer in some neighborhoods. In some locations, they will also pass up stocks, but they love pansies, primula and cyclamen.
Dianthus likes cool weather but is also reasonably tolerant of warmer temperatures. Plant it now. In April, prune or string mow it back to 4 inches tall and you can expect a new bloom flush until the end of June. Petunias also will last into the summer if they are planted now. Deer will eat dianthus.
Look for sales on all the cool weather blooming plants. They will make a great show for the remainder of the winter.