Want A Splash Of Winter Color?

Winter can be a little gray and depressing so why not splash a little color around your lawn and perk things up? So what can I plant you ask?

There are two major flavors of camellia in Arkansas: sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua) and Japanese camellias (C. japonica). Camellias are a wonderful flowering broadleaf evergreen for central and southern Arkansas, but one is better suited for reliable flowering than the other.

First, let’s separate the two most common camellia species. Sasanqua camellias typically flower in the fall, sometime between September and December. Leaves are clearly smaller on sasanqua, giving the plant a finer texture. There are other subtle differences between these species, like the way petals drop, but the key for this discussion is when these two species flower. Japanese camellia, because it typically flowers after the New Year, is open to the ravages of an Arkansas winter and spring. Since the buds and petals are loaded with water, only ideal conditions result in untouched flowers. In contrast, with sasanqua camellia, most flowering is completed before the worst of an Arkansas winter settles in. It is simply a game of timing and odds.

In northwest Arkansas, choices are even more limited. There is a very good series of hybrids known as the ‘Ackerman hybrids,’ which would be your best bet. Dr. William Ackerman was a breeder at the U.S. National Arboretum, and his breeding program has given us lots of valuable ornamental plants. Most of his fall-blooming, cold-hardy camellias have the name winter in the cultivar name. Some of these include ‘Winter Star,’ ‘Winter Rose,’ and ‘Winter Snow.’ You may not be impressed with the habit of many of these, as they tend to be more open than and not as dense as other camellias. Based on research at Asheville, NC, the following cultivars are also recommended for cold hardiness: ‘Spring’s Promise,’ ‘Winter Interlude,’ ‘Pink Icicle,’ ‘April Blush,’ ‘April Remembered,’ and ‘Snow Man’.

Pansies are also an excellent choice for fall through spring color. They do well in full sun to partial shade and like a well amended and well drained soil. October through November is the ideal time to plant them. Fertilize periodically throughout the winter when we get warmer temperatures. Use a complete fertilizer such as 13-13-13 or if you can find one that is a bit higher in nitrogen that would be a good choice. Pansies are heavy feeders and do respond well to fertilizer. Fertilize periodically during the winter, during warm spells to keep them blooming their best. Blood meal is often used because it helps to keep the rabbits away, but it can attract some dogs and even raccoons.

Several varieties of pansies are specifically bred for fall planting and over wintering. These types promise blooms long after the cold sets in, surviving to produce some of the earliest flowers in spring. Two names to look for at your local garden center are Polar® or Icicle® pansies, which are available in more and more gorgeous colors each year. Planting pansies in the fall can be a worthwhile investment.

Large containers could be excellent way to get some winter color. Try planting bulbs further down in the containers and then lining the tops with pansies, violas and parsley. New bulbs can be planted every year, since they have flowers set when you purchase them. They set their energy in the 6 weeks after bloom for next season’s flowers. You can reuse them or buy new. Make sure you do water the containers even in the dead of winter—especially prior to a really cold snap. The larger the container, the more winter hardy your plants will be. Small containers dry out quickly, and the soil gets much colder. Don’t forget they need to get some of that winter sun.

There are other options for fall color as well, including: violas, dianthus, snapdragons (central Arkansas south), dusty miller, flowering kale and cabbage, Bright Lights Swiss Chard, and curly mustard. In many seasons, we find the violas outperform the pansies, since they tolerate more fluctuations in temperatures than the pansies do.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

For additional information, contact your county office of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service or visit the website at www.uaex.edu. The Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

Sherri Sanders
Extension Agent - Agriculture
White County Extension Service