Adding Color to Winter

In many years, horticulture’s glorious October-color fades away in November and December. Splashes of color from chrysanthemums and asters, along with once-blazing hues of deciduous leaves slip away into the monochromatic days of November and December. Jack Frost has wiped out most annual-bedding plants that cheered summer and fall gardens. Now that the warm season is a memory and cold weather knocks at the door, what can gardeners do for color?

Brown washes the landscape as deciduous plants and decaying annuals of summer are spent for 2020. Gardeners may seek out scattered splashes of red on seed coats of Cornus florida dogwood, Ilex fosterii holly and Nandina domestica heavenly bamboo. These are usually not enough to catch the eye. Truly there is a need for a mass of flowers in the border gardens and planters on the patio to brighten November and December. 

Winter does have a few examples of bedding plants that will survive the cold. Look for retail centers as sources for Viola sp. pansy which are bred for winter hardiness. Color ranges from white, or yellow petals, to all blue, or all purple. Sometimes there are combinations of purple and yellow, or blue and orange. Combinations are amazing. Viola can be planted in mass to add a cheerful garden spot in the home landscape.

Shopping savvy helps in gathering the best plants for weeks of bloom. Success lies selecting violas with adequate root balls that support plants selected in the juvenile stage. Roots that are overrunning the potting soil of the individual cell in the purchase will not be the best choice.  Also, plants that are weighed down with spent blooms and/or flopping over are most likely to be of poor quality.

Transplant violas from the deep-celled versions of the four-packs or six-packs. (These packs are found as the common version, but sometimes the cells are shallow.) In such selections, violas likely have better root systems necessary for vigor during cold winters. Handle delicate root balls carefully. Plant in a spot that gets at least 5-6 hours of sunlight a day.

Additional purchase of professional-type potting mix is recommended for improving results in production. Water-in the violas after transplanting into friable, well-drained soil or soilless media. Water-soluble fertilizer that is blue in color, when applied as needed, will help with better blooms and sturdier stems.

Deadhead, or remove, spent blooms of viola regularly to prolong bloom. Under ideal growing conditions blooms that come and go, then come again, should dazzle with persistent color into the winter of 2021. If the plants become leggy, snip off leaves and stems with clean, sharp scissors. Cut back to a sturdy height. New leaves, stems and buds come again, in a suitable site. Gardeners may take advantage of the need to deadhead these November/December flowers by cutting the small blossoms in their prime. The end of 2020 can be brightened by placing a small bouquet of viola at the work station.

Submitted by Kathryn Wimberley, Agent for Horticulture, McCracken County Cooperative Extension Service

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About krjack4

Extension Agent for Horticulture Serving home gardeners and Green Industry professionals, including commercial fruit & vegetable producers. Advisor to: Christian County Master Gardener Association; Downtown Hopkinsville Farmers Market.