By Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Guest Author
Cool season annuals for winter color thrive during our mild winter months. Our rare freezes may set them back, but they usually recover. Pockets of cool season annuals planted where summer plants are dormant can spruce up a winter landscape. An easy way to accomplish the look is to place containers with annuals among garden borders.
The best winter annuals for borders are alyssum, pansies, carpet petunias, stocks, calendulas, snapdragons and some selections of dianthus. They are all small plants and bloom steadily through the season unless there is a long spell of cold weather. Ornamental kale and cabbage are the most formal winter annuals. They grow uniformly and do well in lines or evenly spaced mass plantings.
Alyssum is the most fragrant of the choices. You can often find it at your favorite nursery by just following your nose. My favorite winter annual for fragrance, however, is stock. This old-fashioned flower makes a nice bouquet for the house and provides a pleasant light perfume. Some of the pansies are also fragrant.
The larger snapdragons make spectacular cut flowers. The colors are intense and the flowers cover the stalks. The larger snapdragons like rocket produce well in 5-gallon or larger containers supported by tomato cages. If you grow them in a bed, protect them from the wind by planting them en masse or against a wall or another sturdier plant.
Pansies have the most cold tolerance of the winter annuals listed and petunias the least. Pansies will keep blooming through a relatively long spell of cold and even during short spells of freezing temperatures. Snapdragons, calendula and especially petunias quit blooming in the middle of the winter.
Calvin R. Finch is a director at Texas A&M Water Conservation and Technology Center.