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Annuals - Winter Survival Guide for Your Garden

Annuals - Winter Survival Guide for Your Garden

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The freezing blast of winter winds buffets the garden. Through a frosted window, from the warmth of a well-heated living room, we survey the kingdom of cold and, hot chocolate in hand, cannot help but wonder how all those plants manage to survive such a hostile time.

The more we understand our plants and how they cope with extreme weather, the better we can help them to get through. And that means the better they will be filling their role in our garden. There are many strategies to coping with cold. Let's first briefly look at herbaceous plants:

Their simple approach to cold weather is to die. Stupid as it may seem, death is an amazingly effective approach to winter. Actually, the plant expends its energies in producing seed and these tiny packets of life are the vehicle for next year's growth. This means the options for next year are to start over again: Buy a new seed packet, buy new baby plants, or collect the seed yourself from last year's spent plants. This may seem like extra work, but actually it can be fun.

Kids really like this kind of hunter-gatherer activity. Give them a paper bag or container and they will proudly display how much they accumulated. Be sure they know exactly what they are to collect or you may end up with an amazing array of weed seeds. For later convenience, put only one type of seed per bag. Collect seed of your annuals as soon as it is ripe or it may be cast to the winds and very hard to retrieve! The entire tops of your plants can be bagged and the seed separated from the chaff later.

Store your seeds for next season in paper envelopes or paper bags, but NOT in plastic. The water tight plastic will retain any moisture and cause perfect conditions for mold or rot.
Best and easiest for seed collecting are annual wildflowers or species garden plants. Many hybrid flowers or hybrid vegetables will not come true from seed. They will exhibit a natural variation, considering that the plant from seed is a product of the female flower and pollen from some other source. It does not mean you will not be successful from seeds. They should be bought new each year or started from plants bought in spring at your nursery.

Perennial plants - those that live over from year to year - are covered in the next article.

California, Deep South, and Other Areas with Light or No Frost
Many vegetables and flowers can be grown in the winter. Check with your knowledgeable local nursery or your extension agent to be sure about your area. What many seed catalogs call cool season plants are winter plants for these areas.

Dependable favorites are:

Calendula, Cosmos, Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia) - note that there are compact dwarf or larger varieties of Sweet Alyssum. Read the seed package to be sure you get what you want! Pansy and Viola, Snapdragon, Stock, California Poppy (Escholtzia)

Root, stem, and leaf crops but NOT seed or fruit crops (like sunflower or tomato), Cabbage family, Radish, Turnips, Beets, Carrots. An exception is snow peas - which are a great winter crop.

Biennials, like Hollyhock, Foxglove, Canterbury Bells, etc can be grown in the winter and may be large enough in spring to bloom the first year!
And of course, winter is a great time to learn more about your garden and plants, browse through seed catalogs, and plan your next season.

Till then - have a great winter!

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