Cool Season Annuals

Cool season-annuals shine brightest with the cooler temperatures. Learn about some cool season favorites.

If pansies are the rock stars of the spring planting season, then stock, snapdragons and sweet alyssum are the indispensable, back-up singers. Cool season-annuals shine brightest with the cooler temperatures—when the air is fresh and the sun is just warming up. I always look forward to filling spring’s first containers with a rainbow of colorful petals. Pansies also blend well with early-flowering bulbs such as tulips, hyacinth and daffodils. Or, pair them with leafy lettuces and clove-scented stock to create the perfect voice of spring.

Cool spring favorites…

Pansies (Viola tricolor var. hortensis): Spring wouldn’t be right without the happy faces of pansy flowers. Since they are early spring bloomers, pansies or violas can take a wide range of lighting conditions—ranging from sun to part-shade. Follow these suggestions for prolonged pansy enjoyment. Plant in a well-drained, fertile soil. Deadhead spent blooms to encourage continued blooming. Don’t allow spent flowers to set seed. Use clean petals as a spring garnish or use them as an edible ingredient in salads or as a decoration for pretty cakes. If you prefer scented flowers, the yellow and blue colors have more fragrance.

Stock (Matthiola incana): Their spicy, clove-like fragrance will announce itself before the flowers themselves. Clusters of rounded, single or double petals form a spike in soft colors: lilac, butter yellow, white, pink or a bolder, magenta pink. These romantic flowers can add a vertical element to your spring containers or add a romantic scent to bridal bouquets. These plants prefer full sun and mature from 1- to 2-feet tall. They bloom best in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees. Plant the heirloom Evening Stock for its incredible scent.

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus): The stalks of bright, flowers (almost any color but blue) grow more profusely in cooler weather. The flowers received their name because their petal configuration resembles the open mouth of a dragon. Long, flower spikes emerge from bushy foliage and can create vertical accent in a garden bed as well as in containers. Sometimes snaps will self-sow, but they are usually treated as annuals in our zone 5 climate. Whether you like the tall ones (30-48 inches) or the dwarf varieties (15-30 inches), snapdragons make great companion plants for Brunnera, Bleeding Hearts or other spring-blooming perennials. Although they have a longer, blooming time than many cool season annuals, they look their best in the cool of spring.

Sweet Alyssum (Antirrhinum): This frothy mixture of tiny, fragrant white flowers is the hallmark of spring containers. It blends well with almost any plant from pansy to Persian Buttercup! You can choose from varieties with a low-growing, more compact or trailing habit—perfect for garden beds, containers or hanging baskets Alyssum flowers best in cooler regions in sun or part-sun. The flowers are available in classic white, lilac, deep purple or yellow-green.