By: Charlie Nardozzi
In November while cold-winter gardeners are busy tilling beds, protecting plants, and generally getting ready for the onset of cold temperatures, gardeners in the southeastern coastal plain, southwestern deserts, and West Coast (USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 10) are busy planting, among other things, flowering annuals. If you're a gardener in Tampa, Gainesville, New Orleans, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, or any other mild-winter area, late fall is the perfect time to set out transplants for blooming right through the dark months of winter. You'll find a host of choices, such as ornamental cabbages and kales, pansies, snapdragons, and violas, that can be planted now.
Choosing the right annuals and the correct varieties of them for your area is key to creating a colorful planter, window box, or garden bed. Growing them requires taking into account low light levels, cooler soil temperatures, and the occasional extreme weather of systems such as El Nino and La Nina.
Although many annuals, such as calendulas, geraniums, and sweet peas, can withstand a light frost, these tend to flower sporadically in all but the frost-free areas of the South and West. The key to long bloom is finding annuals that continue to flower during the short, cold days of December, January, and February. These are what I call true winter annuals. Based on my talks with gardening experts from Tampa to Seattle, I've selected the best varieties of eight of the most widely available and popular annuals. Unless otherwise noted, all of these will perform well throughout mild-winter areas.