Gardeners in the South and Southern California can choose from a wealth of plants -- annuals and perennials -- that prefer cooler temperatures and offer beautiful winter flowers.
Winter Flowering Annuals
It's important to understand that annuals are just what their name implies: plants that grow, set seed, and die within a year. Although some plants grown in northern gardens are treated as annuals, many are truly tender perennials that can't survive winter cold. These annuals add color to a winter landscape:
With 12-inch mounds of tiny, fragrant flowers in pink, white, or lavender, sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is a favorite cool-growing annual. Use it to edge beds and paths, or tuck it into small, dark spaces. Grow it in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. Although it tolerates some dry conditions, for best performance, keep it watered. Expect alyssum to go dormant during hot weather.
The bright yellow, cream, or orange blooms of calendula (Calendula officinalis) light up a garden. If the plant is grown without chemicals, the peppery petals may be used as an edible garnish or chopped into cream cheese or dips. Grow in full sun.
Native to the Mediterranean, honeywort (Cerinthe major purpurascens) is an unusual and underused plant. Plant it in full sun or light shade. The plants, with silvery blue-green leaves and blue-purple flowers, can reach 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. It self-sows but dies out during hot weather.
Grow annual sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) on trellises or obelisks where the tendrils of this vine, native to Italy, can climb up to 6 feet. Enjoy the clusters of fragrant, ruffled blossoms as cut flowers. Start sweet peas from seed by soaking them in water for 48 hours, then plant in full sun.
Although many perennials grow best in stronger light and warmer temperatures, these provide color in a winter garden:
Pansies and Violets
Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) and violets ((Viola) species) are the go-to standbys for cool-weather blooms. Their engaging "faces" top petals that come in bold or pastel colors. Plant pansies 4 to 6 inches apart in rich, well-drained moist soil in sun or light shade. Water and fertilize them regularly. Remove spent flowers to promote repeat blooms. Although they're perennials, pansies and violetss are short-lived because they can't tolerate heat. Some pansy varieties are more heat-tolerant than others; violets take more heat and may reseed.
Pinks (Dianthus species and hybrids) are named not for their color -- although many are pink -- but because the edges of their serrated leaves look like someone cut them out using a pinking shears. The blooms often smell like an aromatic spice, such as nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon. You can find many types of these short-lived perennials, including China pinks (Dianthus chinensis), that grow in 6- to 12-inch mounds of grasslike blue-green foliage. Sweet William (D. barbatus) grows taller, up to 2 feet. Cheddar pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) and maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoides) are also part of the family. Grow them in full to part sun. Hardiness varies by species.
You'll love the early burst of color from winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), a fast-growing evergreen shrub for full sun or light shade that offers lots of creamy-yellow flowers. It can reach 10 feet tall and wide and is hardy in Zones 6-9.
Offering one of winter's best scents, winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) shows off clusters of creamy-white flowers in late winter and early spring. It can grow 10 feet tall and wide and is hardy in Zones 5-8.