For The Answer
COOL WEATHER COLOR
With the arrival of the mid-October cold wave, it is clearly time to plant the cool weather annuals if you want winter and early spring blooms. Consider snapdragons, petunias, stocks, calendula, ornamental kale and dianthus right now. Plant pansies, cyclamen and primula in two weeks or later.
Snapdragons can be spectacular additions to your garden or containers. They are available in red, blue, white, yellow, salmon, pink and purple. There are three basic heights. Floral Carpet is one of the low growing varieties. They grow to about eight inches and are ideal as border plants and in containers. Liberty is one of the mid-size selections. They reach 14-16 inches. Use the mid-size snaps in massed plantings or as a border plant. Rocket snapdragons grow to over 18 inches tall. They do very well planted against a wall or taller plant. Wind can be a problem with the tall snapdragons. One of the best ways to use tall snaps is in large containers. Support them with the tomato cages available at all local nurseries.
A special advantage of snapdragons is that the deer are not eager to eat them. In most neighborhoods with the pests they survive to bloom in early winter and then again in early spring until late April.
Petunias have more heat tolerance but less cold tolerance than snapdragons. They are often considered a transition flower that handles the period between the hot weather blooms and the cold weather species. The hardiest selections seem to be Laura Bush, Wave, Carpet and VIP. If the winter is mild, these selections will survive mid-winter to bloom again in late spring and early summer. Petunias are most useful to fill containers and as a massed planting.
The ornamental kale and cabbages are not blooming plants. The attraction is their foliage. Ornamental kale and cabbage have the most disciplined growth habits of the cool weather annuals. They are very effective when used as borders or in formal planting arrangements. There are a number of selections available. Most come in silver green and maroon green versions. Some like Nagoya have a fringed look. Ornamental kale has some shade tolerance but do best in full sun.
Stocks are the antithesis of ornamental kale. They are never described as formal. Old-fashioned is the usual moniker. The flowers are attractive pastel colors but are more hidden in the foliage than snaps or petunias. The characteristics I like best about stocks is the fragrance of the flowers. It is very pleasing. Plant stocks in rows to perfume the garden and make them easy to cut for bouquets for the house.
Calendulas also make good cut flowers. They are a favorite bloom for drying. The orange or yellow daisy shaped flowers attract butterflies and contrast to the colors provided by most of the other cool weather annuals. Calendula seem to warm up the winter garden.
Dianthus are versatile performers. The quarter size blooms come in red, pink, white, violet and bicolor. If you trim them back in March, they will have a new flush of bloom that will last into June. They stay short, 8-12 inches, and are more drought tolerant than the other winter flowers. Use these in borders or massed for butterflies.
Pansies are the all around favorite winter annual. They will bloom from the day they are planted until the end of April even if we receive a number of days with freezing temperatures. Pansies are much more sensitive to hot weather than they are to cold, that is why it is recommended that they not be planted until after November 1. Pansies are offered in a number of different selections including monkey-faced versions and clear-faced flowers. The monkey-faced selections have a dark center that approximates a monkey’s face. The flowers can be white, blue, maroon, yellow or orange. Pansies have some shade tolerance but bloom best in full sun.
Pansies are utilized by butterflies and are a favorite food for deer. It is a good idea to apply slug and snail bait at planting time and every two weeks. Pill bugs and snails won’t go a mile to eat pansies like deer will but they can do considerable damage to the low growing plants. Use pansies for massed plantings of the same color or in containers.
Primula have a growth habit similar to pansies but they require shade. There are pastel colored selections, and my favorite, intensely colored selections. The colors remind me of stage paint that circus clowns use to decorate their faces. The colors are intense reds, yellows, blues, maroons and bi-colors. Slugs and snails like pansies, they love primula. Beer traps or bait are essential for the plant’s survival.
Primula are decorative in the shade, Cyclamen are spectacular. The plants have leaves that are smooth shiny versions of African violet leaves. The attractive foliage is hardly ever noticed, however, because the blooms are exceptionally beautiful and are present on the plant all winter. The blooms are pink, red, white and violet. The red is remarkably intense and the white is very pure. Cyclamen are expensive at $5 or $6 per plant but they are worth it.
It is time to plant winter annuals. Take advantage of the cool weather and do some gardening.