Petunias, pansies do best with fall plantings

“If you could see me now!”

That’s the song petunias, pansies and all your other cool-season flowers will be singing this winter if you plant them this fall. They’ll reward you with larger blooms and last longer.

Or are you going to be like thousands of people and wait until spring to plant them? If you do, your flowers will most likely be singing “a lonely little petunia in the flower patch” with spindly, bleached out blooms.

Our climate is simply ideal for cool-season flowers. Average temperatures and bright sunny days bring out the rich colors. Hotels use these “attraction getters” to lure customers into their establishments. Their vibrant winter hues rival only the lights on the Strip.

What makes our climate so wonderful for fall flowers? To begin with, our soils seldom freeze. In fact the ground remains warm enough for roots to outgrow the plant’s top growth. Lots of roots means bountiful blooms.

I did a study over several years where I planted flowers in the fall, winter and spring. When examining their root systems, the fall-planted roots were massive with blooms to match. The spring-planted flowers lacked roots and as a result puny blooms. Even winter plantings outbloomed spring bloomers.

Here is more proof to plant this fall. Petunias, for example, respond best to temperatures in the low 60s becoming bushier for more flowers. That’s our norm during our winters. When getting into the mid-70s, their growth habits vary, but when temperatures climb above 75 degrees and days lengthen, plants become leggier with fewer flowers. Hot weather takes its toll on petunias.

Aesthetically, we all need a boost during the winter; trees are nude, lawns brown out, and shrubs become dull green. Let those pansies and other annuals brighten up your wintry landscapes.

Use your annuals anywhere: They’ll soften long, straight sidewalks and driveways; brighten entryways; mix them with shrubs; or let them act as a graceful transition from one part landscape to the other.

If you just installed a new landscape, color it up with cool-season flowers. If you are a renter or have a strapped budget, let bedding plant enhance up your landscape. They’ll make your yard look like Disneyland. These “workhorses” make excellent temporary fillers.

Note what you can plant: The more popular annuals are pansies, alyssum, calendula, petunias, hollyhock, voila, and snapdragons. Others include bachelor button, calliopsis, candytuft, gaillardia, nierembergia, African daisy, dianthus, gypsophilla, larkspur, poppies, sweet peas, stocks and Virginia stocks. Hollyhock, gaillardia, cheiranthus, African daisy, alyssum, California poppy and sweet pea transplants are hard to find but they’re easy to direct seed.

Cabbage and kale have been turned into cool-season ornamentals because of their bright colorful leaves. They become more dramatic as the cold weather sets in. These ornamental vegetables are edible but they’re bitter as they’re designed for show, not to eat.

When purchasing annuals, select stocky, green plants with some color showing. This way you’ll know what your flowers will look like.

For a dramatic, professional effect, buy a lot of one variety, rather than a bunch of several varieties and a few extra. No matter how great you are, a few will die; even experts at Disneyland lose some.

Good flower production comes with good soil preparation. It’s something like a bank account. The more money (compost) you put in the bank (soil), the more interest (blooms) you’ll get in return.

Plant your flowers as the sun sets so they settle in before it heats up the next day. Firm the soil around the roots as you tuck them in and give them a deep irrigation. Also mist them for a few days.

Observe them daily and feed them with a few timely feedings to keep those plants producing blooms.


The Nevada Garden Clubs are having their annual fall flower show from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 27. It’s at their Garden Center at 3333 W. Washington Ave., in the northwest part of newly completed Lorenzi Park. Their theme is “Nature’s Wonders, Flora and Fauna.” This is a free show. If you desire to enter your flowers, vegetables, herbs and/or flower designs in the show, call 702-259-6459 for more information.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at or call him at 702-526-1495.