Spring flowers

Our favorite cool-season annuals to plant this fall

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Iceland poppy (Papaver nudica

Spring flowers

Photo: Thomas J. Story

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Telstar dianthus

  • Spring flowers

Ah, lovely October. It's the season for leaf raking, pumpkin picking, cider sipping, and tailgate parties. And, if you're smart, it's also the season for planting winter- and spring-blooming annuals. I know, I know: Your "think spring" instinct doesn't kick in until March. But plant now anyway. Your cool-season annuals will grow stronger and bloom longer than if you wait until spring.

The five annuals described are especially good performers. They'll pump out flowers nonstop as long as the weather stays cool.

Where winters are cold, plant dianthus, pansies, and poppies now. These hardy annuals will establish roots in fall and winter, then explode into action come spring. (In colder climates, wait until spring to plant the other annuals listed.) Where winters are mild, you can have "spring" flowers in fall and winter too. In addition to the three listed above, you can plant tender annuals like nemesia and stock.

So put down that rake and head to the nursery.

Dianthus: Members of the genus Dianthus, carnations, Chinese pinks, and sweet William are usually grown as annuals. All are cold-hardy and have a long bloom period. Greenhouse-grown carnations reach 3 to 4 ft. tall, but the varieties you find in nurseries usually grow 12 to 14 in. tall. Sweet William is slightly taller ― 20 in. ― and Chinese pinks range from 6 to 30 in. Flowers of all three are pink, red, or white, often with intricate markings in a second shade. Many types have a clovelike scent.

LANDSCAPE USES: Since most dianthus form attractive green or blue-green mats of foliage, they look best in the front row, where they can be appreciated.

  • Plant them in front of blue-flowered catmint, delphinium, foxglove, or salvia.
  • Grow them beneath roses in compatible colors.
  • Use them to form a ribbon of color in front of low-growing conifers or shrubs.
  • Plant them in a window box with stock for twice the spice.

The Telstar (shown) and Ideal strains are strong performers, and both come in a wide range of colors. Flowers of 'Cinnamon Red Hots' and 'Pinkie' are intensely fragrant.


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