How to Plant Flowers for Fall & Winter in North Carolina

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Chilly weather intensifies the colors on ornamental cabbage leaves.
Chilly weather intensifies the colors on ornamental cabbage leaves. (Image: ornamental kale image by Tamara Kulikova from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>)

The fall and winter months in North Carolina are generally chilly but mild enough to plant some cool-season annual flowers from November to March. In the mountains in western North Carolina, high winds and snowfall make fall and winter annual flower planting impractical, but tulips, daffodils and other bulbs can be planted. In the Piedmont and eastern coastal plain, focus on planting pansies, ornamental kales and cabbages, and, after the coldest part of winter has passed, plants like snapdragons and wallflowers.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand trowel (small shovel)
  • Organic matter
  • Sprinkling can

Wait until the first hard frosts in October or November kill your summer annual flower beds. Once these plants have browned, pull them from the planting beds so you can work and amend the soil in anticipation of planting cool-season flowers for fall and winter.

Cultivate the soil with a trowel or other small shovel to a depth of 5 to 6-inches. Incorporate organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure in the soil to improve its texture and fertility. This is particularly important if your garden soil contains heavy red clay.

Plant your pansies and ornamental kale/cabbages in the garden bed, spacing them 5- to 10-inches apart. If you want immediate, dense "carpet-like" effect of the plants, space them a bit closer together. Keep in mind that once the weather begins to warm in February, these plants will be crowded since they will have grown. Plant snapdragons and wallflowers only in areas or during months when nighttime temperatures don't fall below 25 degrees F. Pansies and cabbages and kales survive much better when temperatures drop as low as 10 to 20 degrees.

Water the newly planted cool-season annuals with a sprinkling can or gently spray flow from a garden hose to compact the soil and remove any air pockets from the planting process. Monitor the soil and water the plants to keep the soil moist (not soggy) if natural rains aren't sufficient.

Apply a liquid solution of well-balanced fertilizer (such as 8-8-8) in conjunction with a watering to your annuals weekly. Wait one week after first planting the plants to begin fertilization. Follow product label directions for proper dosages, but consider making it half-strength since the fall and winter days are short and chilly. Withhold fertilizing in January if night temps are subfreezing and daytime highs do not get above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Resume the weekly fertilizing in the warmer days of February so these cool-season plants grow and bloom well heading into March.

Tips & Warnings

  • While planting bulbs that bloom next spring is practical in the western mountains of the state, keep in mind October and November are the months to plant bulbs in the rest of North Carolina, too. Winter-blooming bulbs include winter aconite, snowdrops and crocuses.
  • Unless you live within 50 to 100 miles of the Atlantic Ocean, planting annual flowers in January and February may not be practical because of crusty (frosted) soils or long stretches of subfreezing weather when the plants won&#039;t grow well.
  • Consider planting snapdragons and wallflowers in February if you didn&#039;t first plant them in October. They may not survive if December and January are unusually cold or dry. Once February and March begin, these cool-season annual flowers really grow much better.
  • As long as temperatures each day get above freezing, remember to monitor soil moisture around your annuals. The topsoil quickly dries out in the low humidity and sunny winter days in North Carolina and can cause your plants to wilt.

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References

  • "Month-By-Month Gardening in the Carolinas"; Bob Polomski; 2000
  • "A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants"; Christopher Brickell and H. Marc Cathey, eds.; 2004
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