We love a good winter bloom. And what better way to ward off the chilly gloom than with the power of winter flowers? We chose a selection of seasonal favourites to spruce up your garden: violas, pansies and dianthuses. Not just a pretty face, these pretty annuals make for great vegetable companions, as well as a hardy choice for the harsh dry winter months. Read on to see why these blossoms are the real winners of winter whimsy.
They put the ‘win’ in winter flowers
Firstly, annuals are quite unique plants. Their name comes from their ability to complete their life cycle in a single season. This involves the first phase of the seed going to flower and bearing fruit, and then their second phase, when they return to seed again. Known as great companion plants to vegetables, they attract pollinators and repel pests on plants and in soil (oh so helpful). There are both summer annuals and winter annuals, the latter develop from autumn into late winter or early spring. We’ve chosen pansies and violas, and dianthus here, but there are so many others to choose from.
Violas and pansies
We group these two together to break up the confusion on their similarities. First and foremost, the viola is actually the name of a genus with over 500 species. As such, the pansy is a derivation of the viola. A big distinction is in the size: the pansy has fewer but larger, brightly coloured flowers and leaves, whereas violas tend to grow in clusters. They share the same bloom configuration of five petals, but both come in a vast variety of colours and combinations. Rule of (green) thumb: “all pansies are violas, but not all violas are pansies”. We hope this helps!
The pansy has a light perfumed fragrance, most detectable at dawn and dusk, especially the blue and yellow varieties. In addition to their glorious glow, these blooms are a fancy addition in salads as garnish or sugar-frosted for topping cakes and baked goods.
The delightful dianthus resembles frilly flower dresses. Known as “pinks”, or a “Sweet William”, another well-known annual is the Dianthus chinensis. Typical blossom colours range from whites to reds, with varieties of salmon and pink, with slender foliage and thick stems. Their blooms emote a spicy fragrance, giving off notes of cinnamon or cloves – a lovely addition to any winter garden.
Planting your winter flowers
1. Ideal spots and conditions
Pansies, violas and dianthuses all are wonderfully suited for garden edges and borders, as well as full flower beds, hanging containers or window boxes.
Dianthus requires full sun to partial shade, getting at least six hours of sun each day. Violas and pansies, however, prefer morning sun to the intense heat of the afternoon sun. The hotter the climate, the more shade they require.
Your annuals need to be moist at the root and well mulched, as their shallow roots will dry near the soil surface. Dianthus requires alkaline soil, whereas pansies and violas thrive in slightly acidic soils.
When watering your plants, we suggest focusing at the base of the plant. Avoid wetting the foliage to prevent mildew from developing. Pansies, in particular, can have their lifetimes extended by extra watering.
Depending on the climate where you are wanting to plant, you will need to consider your best options. These plants will do best in starting and ending seasons in colder climates, but are mostly known for being “cool season bloomers”. Annuals can also be planted during bridging seasons in warmer zones, as they will stay in bloom during winter.
Your annuals can be transplanted or sown directly into the soil. Transplanting is the practice of growing the seed indoors, allowing them to germinate in a controlled environment. Choose to use a dark, warm space – ideally in a tray above a fridge. For warmer climates, the avid gardener should start on their seedlings in mid-summer and then transplant their plants in autumn.
To start your seedlings, take two or three seedlings and cover with about a quarter of an inch in a small pot, filled with soil to just below ½ a centimeter of the pot’s edge. When the true leaves appear, they then go outdoors for “hardening off”. This involves taking the seedlings for an outside excursion for about one to two hours in the sunlight for ten to fourteen days. Once accustomed, you can rehome them in their permanent outdoor location.
You can also buy plants in trays directly from your centre for those who want the immediate satisfaction of these winter annuals.
Growing and caring for your winter wonders
A fabulous way to get the most out of your winter annual display is strategic placement. Great tips include tucking your winter flowers between spring bulbs as they fade out or combining with other winter-loving plants for a full bloom bouquet.
These annuals also benefit from a technique called “deadheading”. This practice involves snipping off the dead blossom under the deceased section, just above the first living leaves. This helps not only appearance, but also redirects nutrients, stimulating growth. The phrase “picking a pocketful of posies” proves to have some real benefit here.
Also remember to balance watering to keep the ground moist, but well-drained.
Robust, rooted and radiant
We hope you celebrate the cold season with winter flowers. Brightening your heart and home, and even taking up place on your plate, these blooms will be sure to add to your garden’s colour palette and vibrance. Have more questions? Visit our advice page or contact us to speak to our garden gurus.