Some of the most pleasant outdoor days in Central Texas occur during the winter months making it the best time to garden. The lower temperatures enable us to work outside for longer hours planting trees, shrubs and winter vegetables that will continue to grow and get a head start on spring with less watering.”

November is the month that we plant several of the annual flowers that provide color throughout the winter months and until April. In shade, cyclamen is the flower of choice. Pansies are the most reliable plant for winter color, if you have at least six hours of sun. Primula is another winter bloomer for the shade in South Texas. Its growth habit resembles pansies but the colors are more striking and include several shades of red. In the sun, use snapdragons, stocks, ornamental kale or cabbage, calendula, allysum, dianthus, and nasturtium.
Pansies give you a large selection of colors and several flower patterns. The ‘Majestic Giants’ produce flowers up to 3 inches across. They have a monkey face (black inner color) and are available in blue, violet, yellow, white, and red-brown. The smaller monkey-faced selections like ‘Antique’ offer light blue in addition to the colors listed for the large-flowered pansies. ‘Crystal Bowl’, ‘Crown’, and ‘Universal’ are three of the clear-faced pansies. They are available in the same colors as ’Antique’ plus orange. Some of the pansy family have fragrant flowers. In my experience, yellow is the most fragrant bloom.

Plant pansies about one foot apart in well prepared soil enriched with compost. Fertilize before planting with one cup of slow-release lawn fertilizer for every 50 sq. ft. of bed. Fertilize every few weeks with soluble fertilizer after planting. Live oak leaves or pulverized autumn leaves make a great mulch for both cyclamen and pansies. Drip irrigation is the best watering method for all annual flowers. Pansies are not as drainage-sensitive as cyclamen but will rot quickly in poorly drained soil. Deer, slugs, snails, and pill bugs love pansies. The deer must be fenced away from pansies.

Cyclamen transplants are available at nurseries now in deep red, white, pink, and a lavender-pink. Cyclamen is not an inexpensive plant but when you see the blooms you will realize that it is worth the cost.

The plant will bloom all winter as long as it does not get too much sun and is kept watered but not soggy.  Even the foliage is spectacular. The leaves are a patterned lush green. They rise from the base of the plant on stems 5 or 6 inches tall and are 3 to 4 inches across. I use cyclamen in containers near our front door and in a long, narrow bed in front of the house


Written by Calvin Finch
Dr. Calvin Finch is the retired Urban Water Program Director for the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.You can ask Calvin question and hear his answers on the air as he co-hosts the Gardening South Texas on the air at KLUP (AM 930) Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 to 2:00pm.