Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
September, 2006
Regional Report

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Violas and alyssum make a great, cool-season color change for an old whiskey barrel planter.

Cool-Season Annuals Brighten Your Landscape

The first freeze of the season will arrive in late fall to dictate the end of the warm-season color plants. But we need not be sentenced to a winter of bleak landscapes waiting for spring to arrive. Our mild southern winters allow for a great palate of cold-hardy annuals to color our landscapes. Fall is prime time for planting these flowers to brighten the months ahead.

Winter Standouts
Pansies are a super-dependable, cool-season bedding plant. Bicolored types are attractive when viewed up close. For plantings that will be viewed from a distance, choose solid-colored types and mass the color in large swaths. The softer, earth-toned shades of the antique-colored varieties look best when viewed up close. Violas look like a smaller version of pansies. They are well suited to containers, as are all the cool-season annuals.

Snapdragons have been a garden mainstay since before grandma planted her first seed. They are easy to grow, come in a wide variety of colors and plant heights, and can even be cut and brought indoors to brighten an otherwise gray day. Some have a wonderful fragrance. If you have kids around, they will enjoy being shown a close look at the flower and how it got its name. The bottom "lip" of the blossom will pull down and then snap back when released. Or you can squeeze the flower's "cheeks" with thumb and forefinger for the same effect.

Calendulas are another great cool-season flower. They are easily grown from seed, making them a super choice for a kid's garden, and they make a nice cut flower. Many varieties and mixes are available.

Ornamental kale and cabbage are about the hardiest options for cool-season color. In spring some types will bolt, sending up a flower stalk with a spray of yellow flowers that add a very attractive and unusual twist to the flower bed.

Dianthus, also called pinks, are another of the hardy, cool-season beauties. A wide variety of blossom colors are available, most of which are in the white to red range. An added plus is their strappy evergreen foliage, which makes them attractive even without the flowers.

Cyclamen and primroses are two less common, cool-season color plants. They tolerate more shade than most of the above flowers but are a bit more expensive.

Sweet alyssum produces a billow of tiny white, rose, or lavender blooms. Since it can freeze with extreme temperature drops, be ready to cover it when a hard freeze threatens. Alyssum is especially attractive cascading over the edge of a container or rock wall.

Adjust Plant Care in Winter
Whatever species you choose for your cool-season color beds, remember that drainage is very important. In winter we often experience soggy conditions. This makes your plants prime candidates for root rots and some foliage diseases. Mix a few inches of compost into the soil before planting to improve its aeration and nutrient-holding ability. Plant on raised beds if you have the least doubt about drainage.

Give your plants a small dose of fertilizer every few weeks. These cool-season flowers will put a lot of energy into blooming, and cool soil is less active in releasing nutrients. Regular boosts are needed to get the most out of your cool-season blooms.

Cool weather is no reason to lose color in our landscapes. Plan on brightening up your plantings this fall with some of these dependable performers.

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