Chrysanthemums aren’t the only richly colored flowers perking up the cooler days ahead. Pansies, ornamental (aka flowering) cabbage and kale, and snapdragons are perfectly suited for our fall and winter climates. They’re all easy to grow, and you can plant them as annuals in containers, or plant them in beds. The ornamental cabbage and kale will put on a show throughout winter, and the pansies and snaps will perform a flowerful encore next spring. All three work well planted with evergreens as a backdrop, or with early spring flowering bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips.
Pansies, offering cool weather blooms in rich and varied color palettes, are just as eager to please in the fall as they are in early spring. With proper care, they can be overwintered, and in mild winters, pansies will bloom for up to eight months. Pansies can be pretty sickly looking in the dead of winter, but will come back strong the following spring. While pansies prefer full sun, they will tolerate a bit of shade.
Pansies have the best chance of surviving winter when planted in early fall. In our area, you can plant them now through early-mid October. Buy sturdy, compact, healthy plants. Pansy hardiness is generally not an issue this far south, since they can tolerate single digit temperatures. The best way to protect pansies from dehydration due to inaccessible water frozen in the soil is to lay 2-4 inches of pine straw over them when temperatures threaten to drop below 20°F. The one thing pansies really don’t like about winter is having cold wet feet (which mushifies them), so make sure the areas where you’re planting your fall pansies are well drained.
Pansies are great for succession planting, as their flowers and foliage will be in decline as warm weather flowering plants burst out of their long winter naps. When you plant spring bulbs in the fall, simply plant pansies around them at the same time.
Flowering cabbages (smooth leaves) and kale (ruffled or curly leaves) are actually the same species, Brassica oleracea, which means despite what we call them, they’re all kale. They are edible, but not as flavorful as culinary kales. The flowering bit refers to the bloom-like appearance of the leafy plants. The real flowers, which appear in warm weather, are the small yellow four-petaled type that all cruciferous veggies have. They need full sun, and lots of feeding. Ornamental kales have very few pests, except for cabbage looper caterpillars. Buy the largest plants you can find, as their ultimate size is usually already determined by the time they arrive at the nursery. Most ornamental kales typically grow to no more than 1.5’ in width or height. ‘Red Bor’, a purple cultivar with tightly curled leaves, will reach a height of 3’.
The best time to plant ornamental kales in our zone is when temperatures hover at or below 60°F. Most fall transplants are green, and will reveal their best colors after a hard frost. Colors include rose, purple, blue, green, and white. Ornamental kale plants generally form a loose ball with many petals (leaves). Sudden extreme drops in winter temperatures will damage the plants, as will ice on the leaves. When temperatures warm up to around 80°F, it’s time to replace kales with warm weather plants, as they are rarely satisfactory performers after the first winter.
Snapdragons are actually prefer cooler weather and are pretty cold hardy. They like full sun, low temperatures in the 40’s °F, and highs in the 70’s °F. Plant snapdragons when daytime temperatures are between 60-75°F degrees and nights are between 50-55°F, to give them plenty of time to settle in and toughen up for the cold temperatures ahead. Just keep them well watered and mulch with pine straw, and they should make it through our winters. In early spring, give them a feeding, and they’ll take off again until the weather gets too warm for them. Remember to deadhead to improve bloom production.
With all these beautiful floriferous choices that aren’t afraid of a little cold weather, no one has to be without colorful container or bed plantings during the cooler and colder days ahead.
The first article here is a brief guide to caring for pansies. The UGA article is quite indepth, and should address any questions or issues you may have regarding maintaining your in-ground pansies.
The first three links in this list provide additional information on ornamental kales, and the fourth is all about snapdragons.
Header Image: Snapdragons offer amazing fall and spring color in the garden. These snapdragons will grow to about 2′. (Photo © scenery1 – Fotolia.com)