This is one of the more familiar of winter annuals. Yet, pansy, Viola X wittrockiana, is not just one species. It is a diverse group of hybrids of a few species, and includes viola and Johnny-jump-up. Generally, viola and Johnny-jump-up have smaller and simpler flowers. Pansy generates relatively larger and more colorful flowers, with more intricate patterns.
The most recognizable feature of popular pansy is the distinctive floral patterns that look like floral faces. Individual flowers may display a few distinct colors within such patterns. Alternatively, flowers may be a single color. The color range includes white, blue, purple, yellow, orange, rusty red and black. Big flowers can be as wide as two and a half inches.
Locally, pansy is a winter annual. The best bloom begins about now. If the coolest winter weather inhibits bloom, it is only temporary. Bloom is likely to resume before a lapse gets obvious. Although pansy is a summer annuals in other climates, it does not perform well in the locally arid climate during warm weather. Plants might get six inches tall and wide.
It is inevitable. It begins at about the same time that cool season vegetable plants start to replace warm season vegetable plants. Cool season vegetables are now in season, and will grow during autumn and winter. They replace warm season vegetables of spring and summer. Winter annuals, or cool season annuals, now do the same for summer annuals.
Some summer annuals, or warm season annuals, are already shabby by the end of their season. Their replacement is not so unpleasant. Those that continue to perform well into the end of summer or autumn are a bit more difficult to evict. No one likes to pull them up while they still bloom colorfully. Besides, new winter annuals may take a while to bloom.
Winter annuals, as well as summer annuals, require replacement because they live only for a single year. Some complete their respective life cycle within only a few months of a year. That is what their designation as ‘annual’ means. Several annuals have potential to survive as perennials, but are too unappealing to salvage through their dormant season.
Marigold and chrysanthemum are popular for autumn, but do not perform as well through winter. Cyclamen, which prefers a late start, is pleased to replace them by then. Although chrysanthemum and cyclamen are both perennials, few get the opportunity to perform as such. It is easier to simply remove and replace them with the next best seasonal annual.
Pansy, viola, Iceland poppy, sweet William, stock and various primrose are all in season now and through winter. Calendula and snapdragon are seasonable for autumn, and will be again for early spring. They survive and can even bloom through the middle of winter locally. Alyssum is technically a summer annual, but might bloom all through winter also.
Winter annuals are not as easy to grow from seed as summer annuals are. Because they grow during cooler weather, they grow slower. They therefore need to start growing early to be ready for planting now. It is perhaps more practical to plant most types as seedlings from cell packs. Cyclamen and ornamental cabbage commonly grow from four inch pots. These are innately more expensive than other winter annuals.
The advantage of cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, is nonconformity. Bloom begins in autumn when there are not many other flowers to provide color, and continues until spring. Cyclamen then defoliate and go dormant through summer while most other plants enjoy the warm weather. Even their red, pink, white, purple or salmon flowers are inside out, with petals flared back. The flowers can stand as high as six inches, just above the somewhat rubbery foliage. The rounded leaves are mostly dark green with silvery or gray marbling
If used as annuals for one season, cyclamen are uniform enough for bedding. However, if later overplanted with warm season annuals and allowed to stay through summer dormancy, regeneration the following season is variable, with larger and smaller plants, and some that do not survive. As perennials, cyclamen therefore work best in mixed plantings, where variety is not a problem. Cyclamen should be planted with their tubers about halfway above the soil level, and should not be mulched. Soil should be rich and drain well.
Now that it is time for cool season annuals, it is difficult to remove warm season annuals if they are still blooming and healthy. that is probably why so many of us prefer mixed plantings, where cool season annuals can be added as needed to replace warm season annuals as they deteriorate. Some warm season annuals that are actually perennials, like wax begonia and busy Lizzie (impatiens), can be cut back and overplanted with cool season annuals, so that some might regenerate next spring as the cool season annuals finish. Petunias may be looking overgrown and tired, but are at least easier to remove without guilt.
Pansies and smaller but closely related violas are probably the two most popular of cool season annuals. They work something like petunias, but for autumn and winter. They are commonly grown in uniform beds, but work just as well in mixed plantings. There are not many colors that can not be found in pansies, although only a few of the more popular varieties can be found at any particular nursery. Some are ‘solid’ colors. The most familiar varieties have those funny ‘faces’ that pansies are known for.
The various primroses require a bit more effort because deteriorating flowers need to be removed. They can also be a problem for the few who are allergic to them (like poison oak). Like the warm season annuals that can survive as perennials through winter, some primroses, particularly English primrose, can survive through summer as perennials. English primrose displays bright cartoon shades of almost any color. Fairy primrose are more commonly pastel shades.
Stock has an intense and distinctively rich fragrance. Taller types are excellent cut flowers, but are not so practical for uniform beds. Even shorter types are probably best in mixed plantings, or in borders with lower flowers in front. The single or double flowers can be white, pink, purple and almost red.
Ornamental cabbage and kale are grown for bold rosettes of colorful pink, white or pink and white foliage. The shades of pink range from soft light pink to rich purplish pink and almost red bright pink. Cabbage provides more color. Kale has more variety of foliar texture. Ironically, both look rather weedy, and should be removed as they begin to bloom in spring.
Chrysanthemum are strikingly colorful cool season flowers, but rarely bloom as uniformly as they do when first planted. Because they bloom so profusely, they need to be groomed frequently. If they get what they want, they can perform for several years, blooming all sorts of shades of yellow, orange, red, pink, purple and white. Chrysanthemum also displays a broad range of flower structures and sizes, from minute to jumbo.
Sweet William, Iceland poppy, calendula and alyssum are also in season. Yellow or orange calendula, with single or double flowers, is best through autumn, but may mildew by winter. Alyssum is white or subdued shades of pink or purple, and is actually good throughout the year, and can self sow indefinitely.
Whether feral or planted intentionally, nasturtium, Trapaeolum majus (which is actually a hybrid with two other species) is a delightful flower that just about everyone appreciates. Its eagerness to self sow and possibly naturalize in riparian situations attest to how easy it is to grow. Seed for many varieties is readily available. Feral plants provide feral seed.
Bloom of domestic nasturtium can be various shades, tints and hues of yellow, orange or red. Flowers can be striped or blotched with colors of the same range. Some are double. The palest yellow is almost creamy white. The darkest red is almost brown. Feral plants, after a few generations, generally revert to blooming with simple bright orange or yellow.
Plants are more or less annual, but can replace themselves almost as readily as they die out. Those that perform through spring and summer succumb to cooling autumn weather, as their (feral) seedlings begin to replace them for autumn and winter. Those that perform through winter may succumb to frost where winters get cool, but also self sow feral seed for next spring.
Chrysanthemum compensates for its lack of fragrance with rich color and variable form. Centuries of breeding have produced countless shades and tints within the yellow, orange and red range. This includes pink as a tint of red, cream as a tint of yellow, and bronze as a shade of orange. Some reds and pinks are precariously close to purple or lavender. There is, of course, white as well.
Flowers may be solitary big pom-poms, multiple small buttons, or anything in between. Many are daisy types, mostly with bright yellow centers. Spider chrysanthemums have strangely elongated and hooked ray florets, which are generally thought of as ‘petals’. Some chrysanthemums that would otherwise bloom with many small flowers can be groomed to bloom with fewer bigger flowers.
Chrysanthemums with compact growth and uniform bloom are popular as short term annuals for autumn. Their primary bloom phase is impressively profuse. Unfortunately, few get an opportunity to bloom again. Other cool season annuals replace most of them for winter. In ideal situation, with rich media and regular watering, chrysanthemums can actually perform as short term perennials.
Several months ago, warm season vegetable plants replaced cool season vegetable plants. More recently, new cool season vegetable plants began to grow from seed, to replace warm season vegetable plants. Annual vegetables grow only within specific seasons. As they finish, they relinquish their space to those that grow in the next season. Annual color operates in the same manner.
‘Color’ is another word for ‘annuals’ or bedding plants that provide colorful bloom. Those that grew earlier were warm season annuals or summer annuals. Those that replace them through autumn are cool season annuals or winter annuals. Of course, there is nothing black and white about color. Some color from last summer can linger late. Some for next winter prefers an early or late start.
Furthermore, much of the color that cycles through gardens as annuals actually has potential to perform as perennials. If cut back and obscured by more seasonable color through their dormancy, some types can regenerate when it is again their season to perform. For example, cut back busy Lizzie that bloomed last summer can overwinter underneath primrose, and start over next spring.
Marigold and chrysanthemum can start bloom early, before summer ends, but may not perform for long. Some chrysanthemum bloom only once, before vacating their space for other cool season color that does not mind starting later. Cyclamen and ornamental cabbage happen to prefer late planting, to avoid Indian summer. Warmth causes cabbage to bolt, and promotes rot of cyclamen.
Pansy, viola and various primrose have always been popular. Sweet William, Iceland poppy and stock are not as common. Stock should be, since it is so delightfully fragrant. Both nasturtium and alyssum bloom nicely through either summer or winter, depending on when they started to grow from directly sown seed. Some fibrous begonia can perform through winter if sheltered from frost.
Most color does well from cell packs. Nasturtium should only grow from seed. Chrysanthemum and cabbage might be better from four inch pots. Cyclamen may only be available in four inch pots.
As the name implies, ‘annuals’ need to be replaced ‘annually’. What is worse is that they do not even function for an entire year, but only for a specific season. Cool season annuals mostly work from autumn to spring. Warm season annuals mostly work from spring to autumn. Calendula is a popular cool season annual that may not last even that long, since it can mildew half way through winter.
Now that it is time for cool season annuals, it can be unpleasant to remove warm season annuals that are still performing well. In mixed plantings, new annuals can be phased in through autumn as older annuals deteriorate. Busy Lizzie (impatiens), wax begonia and other warm season annuals that are actually perennials can get cut back and overplanted with cool season annuals. The cool season annuals that temporarily overwhelm them can provide shelter from frost. As the cool season annuals finish next spring, the warm season ‘annuals’ can regenerate
However, not all cool season annuals need to finish next spring. Sweet William, cyclamen, chrysanthemum and the various primroses are popular cool season annals that are actually perennials. When the time comes, they can be overplanted with warm season annuals, so that they can regenerate the following autumn. In cool spots, sweet William and some primroses can actually perform all year. (Some people are allergic to primroses like poison oak.)
Alyssum and nasturtium really are annuals, but can function both as warm season and cool season annuals. They sow their own seeds so that new plants can reliably replace old plants without being noticed. The old plants only need to be pulled as they deteriorate. Alyssum is white, or pastel hues of pink or purple. Nasturtium is just the opposite, with bright hues of yellow, orange and red, with only a few pastel options.
Pansies and smaller violas are the two most popular of cool season annuals, since they function like petunias for cool weather. They lack few colors. Most have two or three colors. Ornamental cabbage and kale produce big and bold rosettes of pink, white or pink and white foliage. Kale has weirdly distinctive foliar texture. White, lavender, pink, purple and rose stock is the most fragrant of cool season annuals, and taller varieties are great for cutting. Iceland poppy has delicately nodding flowers on wiry stems. They can be pastel hues of white, pink, yellow, orange or soft red.
So many annuals are actually perennials. They just get dug and replaced because they are not pretty enough during their off season. For warm season annuals, winter is the off season. For cool season annuals, summer is the off season. However, if left alone, many annuals that are actually perennials go dormant so that they can survive through their off season to regenerate and perform again for another season, or several seasons
Cyclamen and various primroses are cool season annuals that are in season now. Cyclamen will go dormant and defoliate as the weather gets warm in summer. Primroses do not defoliate, but get rather runty through warm weather. If planted with other light duty warm season perennials that take over for them, no one notices. For example, primroses are colorful enough now to distract from tired fleabane. By the time primroses fade, the fleabane takes over.
Chrysanthemums are among the flashiest of perennial annuals, but also have a short season. They typically get planted while blooming in autumn, but finish their bloom cycle before winter. After all the rain and cool weather . . . and then a bit of warm weather, some are already dying back to the ground; but closer examination might reveal new growth already emerging from the roots!
Nasturtiums can obscure regenerating chrysanthemums nicely. If the frost sets them back, they recovery quickly. They will bloom more colorfully by spring, and continue until summer gets too warm. By that time, the chrysanthemums should be filling out nicely to bloom by autumn. As the chrysanthemums finish, the nasturtiums will have sown their seeds, so that the process can start over again. Neither chrysanthemum nor nasturtium need to be removed while out of season. They only need to be pruned back and groomed accordingly.
Coleus, impatiens, fibrous begonias and maybe even polka dot plant that were only moderately damaged by frost might be salvageable if they can stay put long enough. That is the advantage of growing them in pots with other small perennials that will cover for them when they die back or need to be pruned back.
The simple pink and white of ‘good & plenty’ candy is what fairy primrose, Primula malacoides, is known for. Pastel purple is also popular. Rosy reddish pink and deeper pinkish purple are somewhat rare. The small flowers are arranged in circular trusses that stand as tall as one foot, just above the softly mounding light green foliage. The rounded leaves are slightly fuzzy. All parts of fairy primrose are toxic, and to those who happen to be allergic to it, can be as severely irritating to the skin as poison oak!
Because they take quite a while to mature and bloom if grown from seed, fairy primrose are typically purchased as cool season bedding plants that are already blooming. Bloom continues through winter and into early spring. If not replaced by warm season annuals, some of the healthier plants can survive through summer to bloom again the following winter as short term perennials. When they do not get enough water from rain, they want to be watered regularly. Fairy primrose can tolerate significant shade.