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South Central Gardening: Plants for Winter Color

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Beat the winter blues in Texas and Oklahoma gardens with cold-tolerant plants.

Beige and white hellebores

By Susan Albert

For those in Oklahoma and Texas where winter temperatures dip below 32°F, the garden shuts down for the season’s rest. However, several plants thrive in cool weather and can provide excitement through the South Central’s blah months.

Maroon-and-Yellow Pansies

Planted in fall, winter annuals, such as pansies and violas, can extend the gardening season. With popular bicolors, as well as solids in shades of blue, yellow, purple, orange, maroon, and cream, pansies and violas add cheerful color to containers, baskets, and along the garden edge.

Purple lacy foliage

Ornamental cabbage and kale (Brassica oleracea) also prefer cool weather and are grown for their intense leaf colors. Include them in containers or alongside fall perennials such as aster and chrysanthemum.

Blue spikes

Cabbage and kale may not survive a harsh winter, but pansies and violas typically bloom well in fall, sparsely during winter, and grow with renewed vigor in early spring.

Larkspur, a winter annual (Consolida ambigua), grows exceedingly well from seed thrown in fall. And I do mean “thrown.” In early spring, tall spires with white, blue, or pink flowers brighten the garden. Larkspur should return each spring if allowed to go to seed.

Snow-covered berries

The state flower, Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), is hardy to Zone 7. It grows in March from seed, or from transplants started in fall. Growing a foot tall, it’s available in white, pink, and classic blue.

For a unique winter look, check out cool-season euphorbia (Euphorbia martinii, E. characias subsp. wulfenii, E. amygdaloides). From fall to spring, count on colorful foliage of bluish green, variegated, or dark red. Hardy in Zones 6–8, use them in containers and rock gardens.

Another trick to beat the winter blues is to plant trees and shrubs with abundant berries that dazzle against green or blue foliage or when covered in snow. Hollies and nandinas are showy, with orange or red berries.

Cascading yellow blooms

The shrub winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) starts blooming in late winter, with cascading stems of yellow flowers. In my Zone 6 it is in full bloom by late February or early March, a welcome sign that spring is on the way.

Tulip-like pink blooms

The broadleaf evergreen camellia (Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua) adds a glossy-leaf shrub to the winter landscape, with blossoms in shades of white, red, pink, and coral, as well as bicolors. Camellias prefer moist, well-drained, acidic soil. Japanese camellias bloom from late fall through early spring and are hardy from Zones 7–10. Sasanqua cultivars bloom primarily in fall.

One of the best and longest-blooming perennials is bright-white candytuft (Iberis sempervirens). Beginning in late winter the white flowers stay low to the ground, forming a ground cover. The foliage is evergreen, which is a bonus.

The perennial Lenten rose (Helleborus spp.), pictured at top, starts budding in January and blooms by February. Its evergreen foliage prefers a shady location and well-drained soil.

To relieve winter boredom choose trees that bloom in late winter or early spring such as saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana). The large, pinkish-purple-and-white flowers, which recall tulips, cover the tree before leaves emerge in late February or early March. On the downside there is a chance of late frosts damaging the show. Hardy in Zones 4–9, saucer magnolias grow 20–30 feet tall.

Chrome Daffodils

And in fall, don’t forget to plant spring-blooming bulbs. Crocus, scilla, hyacinth, muscari, and daffodils are early bloomers that soothe even the most anxious of those wishing for a break in winter.

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