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Planning for Color in Fall and Winter Gardens

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

Of all the colorful winter flowers, snapdragons are my absolute favorite.

Of all the colorful winter flowers, snapdragons are my absolute favorite.

Winter doesn’t have to be all brown and gray with bare branches and evergreens. Except for a few short years in Colorado, most of my gardening experience has been in the southeastern United States, in Zones 7b, 8b, and 9a.

For these areas, there is a multitude of colorful plants to beautify the fall and winter garden, and it doesn’t have to be limited to green shrubs with red berries, although those are nice, too. Some of the plants shown below will also bring color to zones farther north.

Snapdragons

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are my favorite cool-season flowers. They love the sun, and will bloom from September or October (depending on your zone) through hot weather. I have had a few to survive the summer heat, then perk up and look great all over again the next fall and winter. They do get to looking pretty ragged in summer, though.

They require little care. Instead, once established, they seem to be self-sufficient. Another good thing is that they will drop their seeds to produce more flowers later in the season and again the following year.

The link to my article about this and other sun-loving annuals is embedded in my name underneath the snapdragon photo below.

This gorgeous yellow-orange snapdragon graced my garden last year.

This gorgeous yellow-orange snapdragon graced my garden last year.

Ornamental Cabbage

These colorful foliage plants will decorate your garden throughout cool and cold weather. They will likely suffer in a freeze, but should perk up when less cold temps return. After the chance of another freeze, just clip away the damaged material.

In later winter or early spring, they will bolt and send up tall shoots as they go to seed. I have been known to clip that off to prevent bolting before I am ready to replace them.

Lovely ornamental cabbage is available in shades of red, pink, and white. It’s pretty, but please do NOT eat it.

Lovely ornamental cabbage is available in shades of red, pink, and white. It’s pretty, but please do NOT eat it.

Dianthus

These delightful little flowers, also known as “Pinks” (Dianthus chinensis), are in the same botanical family (Caryophyllaceae) with Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), and Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus). They are available as annuals, short-lived perennials, and as biennials. They are available in many colors, and add a splash of color to the fall and winter garden, and into spring. They will bloom more and longer for you if they are deadheaded fairly regularly.

My experience has been that Pinks are labeled as “Dianthus” in garden centers, so that’s what I call them.

This is a pair of dianthus I saw in a local garden center this fall.

This is a pair of dianthus I saw in a local garden center this fall.

These are some dianthus I had in my Florida garden. They lasted all through fall, winter, and spring. They finally succumbed to the intense heat of summer.

These are some dianthus I had in my Florida garden. They lasted all through fall, winter, and spring. They finally succumbed to the intense heat of summer.

Chrysanthemums

Mums (Chrysanthemum X morifolium) are especially popular in autumn, particularly the earthy colors of orange, yellow, and deep red. They are also available in white, pink, purple, multi-colored blooms, and even “daisy mums” with those characteristic white petals with a yellow center.

There are other scientific names for the various cultivars. Some of those are football mums, florist mums, daisy mums, etc. The photo below is one of two large mums I bought a couple of years ago in a small pot. Planted side-by-side, they now cover about 3 square feet of one of our flower beds. At the time I wrote this article, they were loaded with huge buds that burst open later that week. They will continue to bloom for over a month.

The link to my article with more information about camellias and other shade-loving shrubs is embedded in my name underneath both camellia photos.

My gorgeous yellow mums started from a small plant.

My gorgeous yellow mums started from a small plant.

Daisy mums are so bright and cheerful. How could we not feel joyful just looking at them?

Daisy mums are so bright and cheerful. How could we not feel joyful just looking at them?

Pansy

Of course, there is the old standby of the fall-winter garden, the pansy or “garden pansy”. Viola × wittrockiana is one of many cultivars within the botanical family Violaceae. Included in this family is the smaller, delicate-looking viola, and even the wild violet that usually blooms in warmer weather.

Pansies and violas are two more tried-and-true favorites of those who love winter color.

This one appears to be a viola, one of the smaller flowers of this family.

This one appears to be a viola, one of the smaller flowers of this family.

Camellias

Though native only to eastern and southern Asia, people everywhere love camellias. The State of Alabama has even adopted this beautiful non-native flowering shrub as its state flower.

The link to my article with more information about camellias is embedded in my name underneath both camellia photos.

Camellia Sasanqua

Camellia Sasanqua usually blooms in the fall through December. I have one Sasanqua, and it already has big fat flower buds that I expect to open sometime in November. The photo below was taken in the fall of 2021 when it was in full bloom.

At the end of October, this sasanqua was loaded with buds ready to burst open.. It will continue flowering for a couple of months.

At the end of October, this sasanqua was loaded with buds ready to burst open.. It will continue flowering for a couple of months.

Camellia Japonica

Camellia Japonica usually blooms in January and February, sometimes extending its bloom period into early March, depending on your growing zone. I have two Japonicas, and they already have very small, tight buds. This one is called “High Fragrance”.

One of the most beautiful japonicas is “High Fragrance.” It is of a type that resembles a peony.

One of the most beautiful japonicas is “High Fragrance.” It is of a type that resembles a peony.

There Are More — Here's a Short List

These are other cold hardy flowers that I don’t have photos of at this time. I hope to add them in the near future. Here they are:

Common NameBotanical NameHardiness Zones

Autumn Joy Sedum

Hylotelephium spectabile

Zones 3–9

Lenten Rose

Helleborus orientalist

Zones 5–9

Stock

Matthiola incana

Zones 7–10

Flowering Kale

Brassica aleracea

Zones 2–11

Aster

Aster amelius

Zones 3–8

Sweet Peas

Lathyrus odoratus

Zones 3–8

Calendula

Calendula officinalis

Zones 9–11

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 MariaMontgomery