Winter Color With Annuals

Want some spring color? Wildflower seed should be planted now. BUT!  But what about some garden color between now and then?! Good news – there are MANY options for a colorful garden for the winter months!

Cool Season Color

Color in the Southwest winter is provided by blooms from the forests and fields of the northern regions of the world. Winter is time to protect our tropical plants such as colorful canna and heat loving hibiscus. Time to start planting pretty pansies and splendid sweet peas.

Sweet peas are fragrant and so is this annual called “stock.”

How lucky we are to have flowers in winter! Arranged in large clay pots, hanging baskets, or planted in the ground, annuals create cheerful color on (hopefully) the wet winter days ahead of us.

An Alphabet of Choices

Colorful flowers for our cool season include many of the best-sellers from “Back East.” Almost an entire alphabet of annuals can be planted right now. Note that some of these are perennial elsewhere, but are best considered annual here, because they do not well survive the heat of summer. Some of these are also a bit cold tender, and should be planted in protected places.

Petunias need protection from frost. A warm patio generally works.

The plants can be found as seedlings (young plants) in most local nurseries. Or you can grow them from seed. Select from: slyssum, bells of Ireland, bachelor’s buttons, blue sage, borage, calendula, carnation, corn flower, dianthus, dusty miller, echinacea, fringe flower, foxglove, globe amaranth, heliotrope, Johnny-jump-up, kale (flowering), linaria, lobelia, monk’s hood, nasturtium, nigella, ornamental cabbage, pansy, petunia, pink, rudbeckia, snapdragon, stock, sweet pea, toadflax, violets, and wormwood.

The above list is provided in, well,,, list form – visit the handy “Zones & More” page on the website. It is titled Annuals for Winter Color in the Southwest – here.

Planting Winter Annuals

Since these are short lived plants, you need not spend as much time prepping the soil as you do for a tree. Some preparation is helpful though, since they do need good soil to grow in.

Annuals in Flower Beds

You will need to make a bed that is rich in organic matter, since none of these annuals are desert natives. A new bed should be one half compost and one half regular yard soil. You can buy “compost” at the nursery or garden center. No need to buy “top soil,” your yard has soil already. You just need to enrich the soil somewhat. Most of these annuals are shallow rooted, so the bed only need to be about one foot deep.

Love that lobelia! Comes in upright and trailing varieties.

Annuals in Containers

Here’s where you need potting soil. A general potting soil will do. I add some clean (weed-seed-free) playbox sand to be sure the soil does not get waterlogged. Plan on containers at least one foot deep for best floral growth.

Fill your container completely with potting soil. Rocks, pebbles, or anything else at the bottom of the pot has been shown to be more harm than good. If you want to cover the hole at the bottom of the pot to reduce soil loss, use a scrap of window screen.

Some people have fun with their planters!

How High is It?

When planting, the mature height of plants always should be considered – trees or annuals. With annuals plant the tall ones in back. Foxglove stands taller than most, as does bells-of-Ireland. Both form a good backdrop for shorter plants such as snapdragons and stock. Shorter still are nasturtiums, pansies, and calendula. A carpet of low growing alyssum or lobelia can be used to fill in at the base.

Colorful annuals are relatively inexpensive. They are also fun and easy to grow. Give them enough organic matter in the soil, enough sunlight, and regular water. These obliging annuals will reward your efforts with cool color from now into the hotter days of April.

Toadflax is tiny. I plant it in pots that live on tall garden benches so I can enjoy the blooms.

Learn More about Southwest Gardening

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More about growing colorful flowers every month of the year in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

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2 thoughts on “Winter Color With Annuals

  1. Thank you for all the sharing . I have a suggestion for the bottom of pots filled with soil. I use a square of Scotch Brite (the green stuff you use instead of steel wool). Works well and doesn’t rust and can be reused.

    1. Hi Patti,
      Thanks for another idea for a hole blocker. I have used it in the past and the plant roots grow right through it. Window screen is less expensive, and they still grow through that too.

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