Jack Frost has officially visited our area.  The first freezing temperatures of the year often mean that the flowering color is removed from the landscape.  That does not have to be the case.  Gardeners can use winter annuals that can produce blooms in the landscape even during periods of frigid temperatures.

Winter and spring annuals that can be planted during November to liven up the landscape include pansies, violas, snapdragons, ornamental cabbage and kale.

Pansies

Contrary to the name, pansies are a very tough winter annual.  They can freeze solid only to continue to bloom once the temperatures warm.  Proper planting, bed preparation and variety selection can ensure a beautiful show.

Bed preparation is very important.  Pansies do not grow well in heavy clay soils. Compost should be incorporated into the soil to make it loose and to improve drainage.  Pansies require a good supply of soil nutrients to be their best.  Adding a slow release fertilizer before planting can be helpful. Using a water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer, such as Miracle-Grow, every other week can also supply the needed nutrients.

Pansies will be planted from transplants. The roots should be placed slightly below the soil surface. They should be planted in groups with spacing of around six inches between each plant.  

The matrix group of pansies are a very good choice for Mississippi gardens.  These pansies can be found in various colors.  Similar colors can be grouped together or the colors can be mixed.  Some pansies have the traditional blotched appearance, while some can be a solid color with a small yellow eye adding beauty to the garden.

Violas

Violas are similar in appearance to matrix pansies. They are possibly even more cold tolerant than pansies.  Violas are often called “Johnny jump ups”, because of the large amounts of seed they produce allowing them to appear in the garden for years to come.

Establish your violas by using similar practices that are used for pansies. Planting them at a spacing of around six inches will allow them to completely cover the area in blooms. Regular watering is important.  Application of a water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer, such as Miracle-Grow, every three weeks will help them reach their potential.

Snapdragons

Snapdragons can provide stalks of color in the garden landscape.  Once established they can effectively withstand the cool temperatures that winter can provide.  Some varieties of snapdragons, including Sonnet, can grow to heights of approximately thirty inches.  There are also dwarf varieties, such as Montego, that will only reach heights of around ten inches.

Prepare the planting bed for snapdragons as mentioned before, taking care to add compost to aid with drainage.  Snapdragons should be planted at a spacing of ten to twelve inches.

Snapdragons will require some maintenance.  Removing fading flowers, known as deadheading, is necessary to keep the plants looking good.  On extremely cold nights, it may be necessary to cover the plants. 

Ornamental Cabbage and Kale

If you are looking for winter color that is a little different, ornamental cabbage and kale may be a good choice.  They provide interesting colors and textures that can’t be achieved with flowers alone.  Mixing different varieties will increase the color and texture of the garden.

Prepare the planting bed by incorporating compost and a slow release fertilizer.  The plants should be spaced twelve to eighteen inches apart.  They should be planted in the soil up to their lower leaves.  A layer of mulch should be added to maintain soil temperature and to conserve moisture.  

Ornamental cabbage and kale can be attacked by the same pests that cause harm to the vegetable garden varieties.  Cabbage loopers can be a problem. The best insecticide treatment to protect ornamental cabbage and kale should include the active ingredient spinosad.  

Don’t let Jack Frost steal the beauty from your garden.  Plant winter annuals that will brighten the landscape through the cold and dreary months. Information from various Mississippi State University Extension publications by Dr. Gary Bachman were used in writing this article.

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