The cartoon shades of red, yellow, blue, purple and nearly orange of primrose, Primula acaulis (or Primula vulgaris) are still partying strong. They do not seem to be aware that, although perennials that could regenerate next autumn, they are likely to be replaced with warm season annuals soon. The cute flat-topped trusses of half inch to inch and a half wide flowers are short, but stand up above the even shorter two to five inch long leaves.
All sorts of shades and combinations of yellow, orange, red, purple and blue, as well as white and monochromatic black can be found among the many varieties of pansy, Viola X wittrockiana. Pansy flowers are mostly about two inches wide, with a pair of overlapping upper petals, a pair of side petals and a single lower petal. Even though they stand only about half a foot high, flowers hover slightly above the foliage.
Here where winters are so mild, pansies get planted in autumn to bloom through winter, and then get replaced with warm season annuals in spring. They can survive through summer, but do not perform so well while weather is warm. Deadheading (removal of deteriorating flowers) promotes continual bloom. Related violas typically produce more profuse but smaller flowers, which are actually physiologically different.
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.
Winter Annuals Are Moving In
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.
Cool Season Annuals Are Cool
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.
Color Is Not Black And White
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.
Not So Annual
Among cattle, a cow is a female who has calved. Prior to that, she was a heifer. A bull is an adult male. A bullock is a juvenile male or castrated bull. Most cattle are males who were castrated while young, and are known as steers. Yet, cattle are commonly known collectively as ‘cows’.
Similarly, bedding plants are commonly known collectively as ‘annuals’. Many really are annuals. However, some are biennials; an even more are, to some degree, perennials.
Replacing annuals annually make sense. They grow, bloom and die within one year. Some sow seed to regenerate if and when they get the chance. In the prominent spots of our gardens, not many are likely to get such a chance before they are replaced by other annuals for more immediate gratification within the next season.
The same applies to bedding plants that have potential to perform as perennials. They too get replaced during their off season. Since most are inexpensive, their untimely collective demise is not considered to be too terribly wasteful.
There are a few that are not so easy to part with. Cyclamen will be a topic for next week because it is a cool season perennial that is too expensive to be deprived of its potential to regenerate and bloom next autumn and winter.
These English primrose from last winter were afforded an opportunity to stay in their landscape while they were somewhat dormant through the warmth of last summer, so that they could regenerate last autumn and bloom through this winter. A few from around the edges were moved inward to replace a few that did not survive. Impatiens were planted in front for summer.
The results are not exemplary only because of the shade, but are worth the effort of not putting effort into replacement.
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.
Why Cyclamen Are So Popular
Cyclamen are everywhere! Some nurseries have more cyclamen than all other cool season annuals combined. Not all cyclamen are represented though. Almost all are white or simple red. Pink, salmon and other shades of red are noticeable scarce because they are not traditional colors of Christmas. The plants are mostly of impeccable quality, and outfitted with abundant flowers. While there is not much else blooming, the popularity of cyclamen is impossible to ignore.
The problem with cyclamen is the expense. Relative to other cool season annuals, they are large plants that are only available in four inch and larger pots, so naturally cost more. They can not be purchased in less expensive cell packs. Even though they are perennials that can last for many years, they are almost always used as disposable cool season annuals that get replaced when warm season annuals come into season. It can be difficult to justify such an expense for something that lasts only a few months.
The advantage to cyclamen is that they look good instantly, even if they do not perform as reliably during the next few months. This is something that the other cool season annuals have difficulty with. Only larger and more expensive annuals in four inch pots are so immediately colorful, and even they need some time to fluff out and get established in the garden. They just do not grow as fast now as they did earlier in autumn. The weather is now cooler. The days are now shorter.
This is why it was important to replace warm season annuals with cool season annuals earlier instead of later, even if some of the warm season annuals had still been blooming somewhat well. It gave the cool season annuals some time to mature before winter really slowed everything down. Even though they do not grow as actively now, they are already big enough to bloom impressively.
Pansy, viola, stock, Iceland poppy, nemesia, various primroses and ornamental cabbage and kale can certainly get planted now, but will grow a bit slower than they would have if they had been planted earlier in autumn. If necessary, it might be worth planting them a bit more densely than typical, or planting larger plants from four inch pots.
It is unfortunate that most florists’ cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, are enjoyed as cool season annuals only through winter, and then discarded as they are replaced by spring annuals. They can actually survive as perennials for several years, with white, red, pink or magenta flowers hovering above their marbled rubbery foliage each winter. Foliage typically stay less than six inches deep.
Florists’ cyclamen are probably typically discarded seasonally because, after blooming through winter, they take some time to redirect their resources to adapt to their landscape situations as the weather warms through spring. During that time, they can look rather tired. Shortly after they recover, they defoliate for dormancy through the warmth of summer. Some do not survive the process.
When they regenerate through the following autumn, they are not as uniform as they were when first installed. This is probably not a problem where a few florists’ cyclamen are planted with mixed annuals or perennials that compensate for their irregularities as well as their dormancy through summer. However, it does not work well for the uniform flower beds that they are often installed into.