For The Answer
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Conservation Director, and Horticulturist
Week of October 10, 2005
Planting Flowers in October
Thank goodness the cool weather has arrived. The rain is sure to follow. It is time to think about planting annual flowers for the winter.
Snapdragons are available in short, medium, and tall versions. The colors can be very intense red, maroons, yellow, white, pinks, and salmon are available. I have had the best luck with the Rocket snapdragons. They are relatively tall at about 36 inches and seem to be the selection most able to tolerate wet, warm, and cold weather. Floral Carpet and other short snapdragons (8 inches) make a good border flower and do well in containers. Even the tall snapdragons do well in large containers. Use a tomato cage from the vegetable garden to keep them from being blown over. Snapdragons planted in October generally bloom for 6 – 8 weeks in the early winter and then again in early spring for two months. They are usually killed by rust disease when the warm weather arrives.
The stock bloom is not nearly as showy as snapdragons, but the fragrance is very pleasant. The flowers are pastel colors and are somewhat hidden in the stalk among the foliage. Like snapdragons, stock make good cut flowers. The varieties available in most nurseries are only 8 – 10 inches tall. For the best cut flowers, however, seek out taller varieties.
Sweet peas rival the stocks for fragrance and snapdragons for intensely colored blooms. They are also great for cut flowers. Plant them by seed late in the month. The old-fashioned selections have the most attractive blooms and best fragrance but require a trellis or tomato cage for support. The bush types are easier to grow. Sweet peas are sensitive to both cold and heat so be ready to replant several times this winter.
Dianthus has a flat flower about quarter size. Most blooms are pink, white, violet, or some combination of the three colors. Dianthus are not as useful as snaps, stocks, or sweet peas for cut flowers, but they are a favorite of the butterflies and make a good bedding plant. Of all of the winter annuals, dianthus can tolerate the most heat and drought. They often survive into June.
Calendulas are the winter daisy. They are available in shades of orange and yellow that warm up the winter garden. Like dianthus, they are a butterfly favorite. The flowers reach silver dollar size on plants about 1-foot tall.
Plant nasturtium with seed for an orange or yellow flower on lush light-green foliage. The flowers smell and taste good. Nasturtium is an old-fashioned-looking plant. Use them for a rolling border 18 – 20 inches tall or in an informal round-shaped bed.
Many of the winter blooming annuals are fragrant. One of the most fragrant is alyssum. They make a mounding plant 4 – 8-inches tall and 1-foot around covered with white or violet blooms that are only an eighth-of-an-inch in diameter. They are so thick on the plant, however, that they make a great edging plant that will perfume the whole yard.
Pansies, cyclamen, and primulas are also excellent choices for the winter flower garden in South Texas. Wait to plant them, however, until November when the weather is consistently cooler.
To prepare your winter flower garden incorporate 2 – 3 inches of compost and 1 cup of slow-release lawn fertilizer per 50 square feet into the soil. Raised beds are best but a garden in the native soil will also work in most neighborhoods. Water with drip irrigation and mulch with grass clippings or leaves for the best flower production.