Tag Archives: cool season annuals

Cool Season Annuals…What Are They, And When Do You Plant Them?

The Birmingham area can see great fluctuations in temperatures in any given year, from sizzling summer highs in the upper 90’s to lows well below freezing in the winter complete with rain, sleet and even snow (Look HERE for a post on the blizzard of ‘93.).

Ornamental kale, trailing pansies, Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’

Winter planting of cool season kale and pansies

For gardeners this can present a quandary when trying to decide among the dizzying array of plants at the local garden center. While the last average frost date here is mid-April, the soil can still be too cold for the real heat loving plants like zinnias, impatiens, lantana, and caladiums, to name just a few, that will sail through our blistering summers but languish in cold soil.

Enter the cool season annuals. These are the plants that prefer cooler temperatures and thrive in the early fall, winter, and early spring. If you know which ones they are and when to plant them, you’ll be ahead of the gardening game.

Foxglove after days of freezing temps

A few days ago, after we experienced temperatures in the teens at night with snow and cold weather for a number of days, I checked on some of my winter grown cool season plants to see how they’d fared.

The pansies, poppies, snapdragons, and foxgloves are very hardy plants that I’d added to the garden in October and November, though if you find larger transplants they can be planted in late winter as well. They looked fine, though some that were more exposed had damage. As temperatures warm they should rebound nicely.

But, since they’re also considered cool season annuals, they’ll fade as our spring heat arrives for good in May. Then it will be time to replace them with the real heat lovers I mentioned earlier.  Remember, our last average frost is right around mid-April. We can count on things warming up quickly after this date. This is also about when everything in sight is turning yellow from the pollen falling everywhere – including covering cool season plantings and our cars!Poppy - Buds Frozen

Cool season annuals have a tough life. They might like it cool, but freezing is a bit much even for them. The picture of the poppy here shows what happened to the majority of them that were just beginning to put up fat buds when temperatures dipped into the teens for a few nights in a row.

The buds were completely frozen, but the plant itself came through fine since since mulch helped keep the plant and rootball warm. They too will be in full bloom in another month or so and are examples of what can be planted from 4″ pots in the fall.

The second picture shows (circled) seedlings of larkspur and poppies grown from seed sown  directly into the garden in December. I sow extras any time from November to January when the soil is cold enough for their liking.

Poppy and Larkspur seedlings and a SnapdragonAt any rate, you can see these tiny plants in this sunny, south facing bed weren’t fazed by the cold temperatures at all. I’m looking forward to their blooms in the late spring!

Some other cool season annuals that are more frost tender will begin to arrive in the garden shop soon. They  include sweet alyssum, geraniums, petunias, nasturtiums, bacopa, and more. Because they come out of cushy greenhouse environments you’ll want to protect them  from any late freezes.

We’ll check back on these plantings in future posts.

 

By Kris Blevons

 

Fall Favorites For Spring Flowers…A Primer On Pansies & Violas

Pansy Matrix Ocean Breeze MIx

Pansy Matrix Ocean Breeze MIx

Pansy Matrix Sunrise

Pansy Matrix Sunrise

Fall is planting time here in Birmingham, and pansies and violas are the stars of the show. Even if folks plant nothing else, it’s so easy to put a few of these spring beauties in a little spot in the garden, a pot, or a window box for the winter.

Panola Purple Face & Viola Sorbet Blueberry Cream

Panola Purple Face & Viola Sorbet Blueberry Cream

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Viola Sorbet Antique Shades/Viola Penny White

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Viola Sorbet Antique Shades/Viola Penny White

Pansy Majestic Giants Patricia

Pansy Majestic Giants Patricia

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Pansy Matrix Orange/Viola Sorbet Yellow

Pansy Dynamite Scarlet/Pansy Matrix Orange/Viola Sorbet Yellow

Oh but what a dizzying selection greets you at the garden shop! Tables upon tables of blooms…some diminutive, others large, some with solid colors, others with charming “faces”, all waiting for you to decide which of them to choose to add beauty to your landscape next spring – and even some color through the winter.

One rainy Saturday morning I put together a few sample combinations of pansies, violas, and mixtures of the two to show you a few options available for your planting pleasure…but keep in mind this is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to playing with color in your garden!

Remember to think about what else will be blooming in your garden come spring.  You may not want a pink pansy in front of your orange azaleas (Though I’ve been known to favor pink and orange in certain instances!), so think it through before you decide.

Another consideration to keep in mind is the color of your house.  My first summer in our home I decided I wanted an “English Garden” look out front, using pinks/purples and silvers.

I was so caught up in my vision that I forgot this color palette would look like blech in front of the brick – I was unhappy with it all summer and couldn’t wait to tear it all out come fall.

Now I use brighter colors and include poppies –  it looks so much better!  I save the more muted colors for the back of my house where I play with my “English Garden” and plant everything  I want to – including foxglove and snapdragons for spring interspersed with pansies and violas.

Viola Sorbet Purple Duet/Blue Blotch/Banana Cream

Viola Sorbet Purple Duet/Blue Blotch/Banana Cream

 

The difference between a pansy and a viola is primarily size and shade tolerance. The pansy bloom and plant is larger. Pansies need at least half a day of sun to bloom well; full sun all day is best, but remember, in the spring as the temperatures rise, they’ll play out faster in so much sun.

Violas are smaller in size and the blooms are smaller as well. However, violas put out massive amounts of small blooms and the plants attain a nice rounded size which makes up for those diminutive  flowers. Violas can tolerate less sun, though, as with the pansies, at least half a day sun is best.

As for most plants, fertilizing is important.  Plant Tone is a good natural (and stinky!) amendment to add to beds in the fall.  Incorporate  it with a first feeding of Osmocote, which will release its nutrients until the soil gets cold.

Mid-winter apply  calcium nitrate to add extra nitrogen. After planting, always water your plants in and apply a good layer of mulch to keep roots warm through cold spells.While plants are blooming be sure to deadhead, (pinch off faded blooms) to keep more buds coming. If you leave old blooms on to die then set seed, this creates a messy looking plant that’s putting all its energy into that seed, not into future blooms.

 

This is especially important to remember come spring. Don’t be overly concerned if plants aren’t blooming in the middle of winter. This is normal – especially if we have cool, frosty  nights. Remember, the real reward comes in the spring!

Pansy Mariposa Peach Shades

Pansy Mariposa Peach Shades

Be mindful of winter temperatures – this is the time to watch the weather reports each morning or evening. Pansies are tough plants, but help them out by making sure soil in beds or planters is moist if there are freezing temperatures forecast.

Hopefully  these suggestions and tips will be helpful for any of you that get overwhelmed by the choices available…happy planting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herbs, Veggies, Cool Season Annuals Shine in Late Winter Containers…

Wondering what to do about your winter-weary container plantings? It’s still too early to put in the real heat lovers, but there is hope.

Sweet allysum, lettuce and violas

Sweet allysum, lettuce and violas

If your pots  look just plain awful, it may be time to, at the very least, empty them out and add fresh potting soil so you’re either ready to freshen them now  or get a jump on planting them in another month or so.  (You’ll be so happy you did this when you don’t have to do it later!)

 

 

Herbs add so much to container plantings. Whether it be some thyme to trail over the edge or a bit of parsley to add some fluff, they will add texture, color, and scent…not to mention it’s nice to snip a bit here and there for cooking! Take a look at this herb post from last year for more information. While not everything in that post has arrived yet, it will soon; so keep your eyes open!

 

Silver thyme and lettuce brighten this planting...

Silver thyme and lettuce brighten this planting…

Other great additions this time of year are lettuce and arugula…just in time for spring salads! Plant some now and you’ll be picking until the heat sets in and they “bolt”, or send up blooms. This will mean they’re finished for the season and need to be replaced with something that will withstand the heat of summer. Another really pretty veggie addition is red-veined sorrel…and it’s very cold hardy as well.

Poppy and cool season annuals, diascia, sweet allysum and pansies

Poppy and cool season annuals, diascia, sweet allysum and pansies

 

 

 

 

 

This is also the time of year for what is termed “cool season annuals“. These are the flowers that shine when the nights are brisk and the days aren’t too too hot. Think sweet allysum, lobelia, heliotrope, diascia, and nemesia for starters (Though breeders have now improved the sweet allysum to withstand even our brutal summers.),

 

We even have the first of the geraniums in stock now; they love this late winter, early spring weather. If your pansies survived this winter, they should begin to really blooom for the next month, as well, and snapdragons will even later.

Red veined sorrel adding some color...also shown Perennial Veronica 'Georgia Blue' and golden acorus.

Red veined sorrel adding some color…also shown Perennial Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’, golden acorus and lemon variegated thyme…

 

When the heat takes it’s toll on these cool season beauties, it will be time to plant your summer combinations. We’re so lucky to be able to have more than one growing season!

caution when using these cool season flowers, however. Be a weather watcher and protect these from any freezing temperatures. If you do this, you’ll have the prettiest planters of anyone on your block!

Remember, you can always bring your manageably sized pots in for us to plant! We also carry a good selection of the biodegradable pulp pots that look great on their own or can be dropped into another container. Like to do it yourself? Browse the nursery and collect what you want for your planters, or ask us for help choosing just the right plants.