Winter colors bloom in Victoria
  Even with warm weather, petunias, yarrow and Dianthas can give the feeling of the cold season

October 28, 2004

Jean Wofford,
Master Gardener Intern

Winter color in Victoria - sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?

However, growing conditions in our area make it possible and very enjoyable as we can get out and work in the garden in the winter without getting so hot.

Imagine having beautiful winter color when other landscapes elsewhere are drab and dreary. Our winters do not have to be that way!

It is time to start planning what you want to plant for your winter color. There are so many things from which to choose. Do you want color in your landscape, cut flowers, edibles - or all three? Maybe this will get your imagination off and running. Visit your favorite nursery and see what there is to offer.

I spoke to Laurie Garretson from Earthworks Nursery here in Victoria and she said one of the biggest mistakes made is that people look at the calendar, see that it is fall - and want to start planting.

The weather doesn't always go by the calendar, as we know. She said if you plant for your winter color too early, you are not going to have the desired success with your plantings. How well we know how quickly things can change in South Texas!

I also spoke with one of the Four Seasons Garden Center staff, and she gave me further information for planting winter color. Never underestimate the knowledge to be gained from your local nurseries. I was provided with a helpful list of plants with information and tips.

As we know, deer seem to like many of the same plants we do. I am sure they are like dessert to them. However, according to Horticulturist Calvin Finch (who also has various other credentials), snap dragons, stock and some of the new petunia varieties, such as the Texas Superstar Laura Bush petunia, have foliage that is unpleasant enough to deer that they leave them alone in most situations. This is good to know for continuously blooming color in areas where deer might visit our gardens.

There are some really suitable plants for winter color. Sweet alyssum is a good bordering plant. It has a nice fragrance and is cool-weather hardy. Snapdragons, one of my favorites, come in dwarf as well as tall varieties. They make wonderful, long lasting cut flowers, and they have a very nice fragrance, too. Dianthas also work well as bordering plants. They come in a variety of jewel colors, making a nice color addition to your garden. Someone told me there is a fragrant variety, but I personally have not seen it.

All of these will tolerate very cold weather. I have had all these plants make it through freezes and keep blooming. Stock is also a great winter color plant. It is nicely fragrant and makes for great cut flowers.

Some of the other jewels for winter color may not be as easy to find, but are well worth the effort. I grow them from seed, but they need to be in the ground by the middle of November. Sweetpeas are one of my all-time favorites. They are wonderful, old-fashioned flowers. Their fragrance is like no other bloom.

Another winner is the old fashioned nasturtium. I hope you will look for this one. This is one of the tiny jewels of our garden, and may also be used in salads for a little "bite" of delightful color.

Of course, we all know about pansies. I just love their sweet little faces. I think they are probably one of the most planted flowers in the winter garden. There is a variety, too, that is fragrant, and they make lovely short cut flower arrangements. They are definitely cool weather plants, so don't plant too early. Save your time and money.

Petunias are perfect in the landscape. They come in such wonderful colors, and I think they are best in mass plantings. Marigolds are also good for winter color. They can be used for cutting as well, but I don't use them for that because of their sharp and unpleasant odor. They are lovely in the landscape.

Calendulas, also good for cutting, are another prime choice, as are begonias, but for some reason I have never had success with them. So, I just admire them in other yards and gardens.

For the very special plants, I have to include cyclamen. They cost quite a bit more but are really worth it. I always put some in pots and every now and then, put some into the ground. They last and bloom all winter. They really don't like the heat, so they always die down - and I haven't been successful in bringing them back the next year although I have had a couple summer over if I put them into deep shade. They come in various red, white and pink tones and are perfect small accent plants.

One of the others that I consider special is the primrose. I just love the little jewel blossoms of this plant. Their colors are true jewel colors, and they have the most perfect little bloom with a white throat. They are only about eight inches tall and work well planted in a shallow pot. I like to make a mini mass planting of these in a shallow pot to enjoy until the weather gets too warm for them.

For winter color there are many edibles that are just beautiful. I like to edge with curly leaf parsley, then plant some different lettuce. When I can get the package of mixed lettuce seeds, I like to plant these. You can also buy different kinds of lettuce in small pots at your favorite nursery. Lettuce comes in many different colors, and you can also plant ornamental cabbage, kale, - and don't forget bright lights Swiss chard. Some of these plants are almost too pretty to eat!

When I prepare my beds for planting winter color, I always add some slow release fertilizer. I mix this in well, then add my plants. You should watch closely and water frequently. After a week or so, you should be OK. You also need to keep a sharp eye out for snails and slugs. Even though the weather is cooler, they never give up.

For edibles, I use a beer trap made from a small can, sink it into the ground until it is at ground level, fill it with beer and leave. In the mornings, I just empty the beer with the drowned slugs and snails, and fill the can again. For blooming plants, I use a commercial snail and slug bait.

Oh - and what do I do with the beer that has the snails and slugs? I bury it. I think it must be good for something, perhaps more nutrition for the soil?

One way or the other, winter color does not have to be drab and dreary in Victoria! Get started now with planning and preparations for a bright and beautiful winter garden.