Winter’s Flowers, Winter’s Color, Winter’s Coming!
“More than anything, I must have flowers, always, always.” Monet
My mother always said, “Good things come to those who wait.” For years living in North Florida I tried and failed hopelessly with bulbs. Every year I would mail order and every year I’d wait patiently only to be disappointed once again. A lot has happened since those early days of trial and error. I attribute my love of bulbs to my mother, who for all these years seems to do them so effortlessly. But, my mother lives up North where bulbs thrive and reproduce to the point where northern gardeners complain about the lifting and dividing each year. We Floridians should be so lucky.
The first thing I learned was to stop mail ordering from northern states. I mean, the acclimatizing of plants from up north to Florida just isn’t going to happen. Just like we must have low chilling hours with our fruit trees, we’ve also got to follow this rule of thumb when buying bulbs. I now order my bulbs from the Carolinas, some from North some from South. I must admit this made all the difference in the world in their performance.
I was still living in my old house when I discovered many of my spring bulbs rotting, being too soggy in the heat of summer. I decided then and there that my bulbs would have to be in a raised bed at lease 4–6” up off the ground. I also started planting bulbs in the cooler, morning sun. This also improved performance and helped my blooms last longer. During all this trial and error, I experimented with a lot of different bulbs. I’ve found daffodils and paperwhites do well here in the ground. Hyacinths, however, need more water and I always do these in pots or glasses, so I can control the water on them. Hyacinths are also not good perennial bulbs. I’ve had the foliage come back, but they never rebloomed., so I just discard after blooming. For fifty cents each, I can do a beautiful pot for a few dollars.
When I moved to my new house we put in the bulb berm in the garden first. I have it under a deciduous tree in the morning garden. This allows sun on the berm in winter and shade during summer. When buying bulbs, they are usually pre-chilled, but I recommend chilling anyway. The easiest way to chill your bulbs is to put them in a paper bag in your vegetable crisper. I leave them there three to five weeks. The daffodils need at least four weeks before planting. Plant your bulbs anytime from November through February. You’ll be amazed how quickly they sprout after planting. Here in Florida there is no reason not to have bulbs blooming all winter. Snowdrops are our substitute for Lily of the Valley. They have no fragrance but have beautiful little white bells and slender green stalks. They multiply and take care of themselves once you’ve gotten them established.
Bulbs need bone meal to feed their root systems, so I stir bone meal in around them when planting. On new bulbs, it wouldn’t hurt to use a good light potting soil stirred in with your soil. This will give your bulbs a good start. After the roots start growing, the roots will grow into our heavier soil and will get a sturdy hold. Anyone who has tried to lift amaryllis bulbs will tell you that when digging or moving established bulbs, always be sure to dig many inches away from the bulb to not slice into the bulb or chop the roots too much. If I do slice a bulb, I always leave it out of the ground a few days to let the slice heal and seal before replanting. You’ll be amazed at how quickly a bulb will recover from a bad cut.
During the next few months while the weather is cool, plant your bulbs and just wait. My mother was right, good things will come.
After reading the quote that begins this article, I must say I agree, I agree. As our seasons slip from one to the next, so do our flowers. A lot of our garden mums for fall are looking tired and it’s time to put out our winter color. This month, I’m going to give you a list of some of our winter flowers, and then I’d like to address each of them with specifics. I’m sure out of the list you’ll find a few that will give you color in the months to come. My list is: petunias, pansies, violas (Johnny Jump-Ups), snapdragons and dianthus. Now, for specifics.
Petunias have the biggest flowers of all of these. They come in every color from bright red to deep purple to butter-cream yellow. They will take a cold down to 30 degrees. I cover them if the temperature drops lower or if the freeze will last many hours. Keep old blooms clipped and they will stay pretty right into April and May. They do well in pots or hanging baskets. I use them along my walkways and in my window boxes. They will grow in full sun or just half a day.
Pansies are the happy flowers of winter. They come with different sized blooms that look like little faces. They are flat flowers, but very showy. There are Majestic Giants with a lot of two-tone colors and there are Crystal Bowl pansies with solid faces. Pansies will grow through snow, so no need to cover during a freeze. Their flowers may sometime get winter burn, but the plant will thrive and give more flowers. I put pansies in strawberry jars and pots to set in the garden. They are short (6-10”), so putting them in pots or bowls gives them the height they need to show off, as they so deserve. They are edible, and I love to decorate cakes with them throughout winter and even into Easter.
Violas (Johnny Jump Ups) are just a smaller version of pansies, except you can make tea from the flowers. Called “Heart’s Ease”, this tea is a calming tea. Lord knows we can all use this. Pansies and violas are great in pots of herbs. They grow well together and compliment each other. The pansies are an annual, but the Johnny Jump-Ups will re-seed and each year you’ll be surprised where they sprout up.
Snapdragons come in three heights. There is a low ground cover called Tahiti. If you want tall, use Sonnets or Rockets. I like all of them. I kept my snapdragons until after July 4th one year. They will keep flowering longer in to spring if they are in just one-half day of sun. Snaps come in every color, from orange to lavender. Each time you cut your old flowers, you’ll notice your plant will grow larger in between blooming. They take cold well into the thirties. Cover only if it is going to be below 30 for many hours.
Dianthus is a long lived annual for Florida. I always plant these out in September and enjoy them well into June. The are short (10-12”) and come in solid reds, pinks and variegated purples & whites. Their little star clusters are tight and very showy for borders or used as fillers. They take freezes well and need cover only if we dip into the 20’s. Dianthus is from the carnation family and give off a slight powder fragrance. There is a perennial dianthus that is called “First Love”. This dainthus is a true perennial, but only comes in light pink. I’ve had a clump in my memory garden for three years and it’s thriving with very little attention. “First Love” has a stronger scent than other dianthus.
There are a lot more winter flowers that I use for fillers, ground covers or if I need something to drape over a pot. For this I use blue lobelia or white and purple alyssum. The lobelia will take quite a bit of cold and the leaves will turn color (red & orange). Be careful not to let frost get on these. Not always, but I have seen them melt in a hard freeze. For the most part, both of these will take cold very well.
As you can see, like Monet, I need my flowers, more of them and more of them.
We’ll Talk Again,