Cool Season Color

Annuals aren’t typically touted as a drought-tolerant option, but they do add a nice burst of color to an otherwise monochromatic winter landscape.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful… OK, maybe not in South Texas. But it can certainly be delightful, especially if you choose to swap out your seasonal annuals.

Although we (in conservation) don’t typically regard annuals as a drought tolerant option, we do recognize their impact of providing a splash of color in the landscape when used in moderation. I’ve written about warm season annuals, but let’s take a look at the recommended cool season annuals.


Pansies are most commonly sold as winter annuals in South Texas. They come in many colors — including white, blue, yellow, purple and bicolor — and styles. The current fashion are spreading versions. Look for PlentifallCool Wave and WonderFall selections. These will spread out as they grow so you’ll only need half as many. The one thing about pansies I can’t seem to forget is the name “old man flower” — the bicolor ones look like an old man’s face with bushy eyebrows and mustache.


Although in the same genus as pansies, violas are considered their little cousins. Violas work extremely well in sunny facing rock gardens, terraces or in containers. Although breeders have created varieties with violet, blue, white, yellow, lavender, mauve and apricot colored flowers, my favorite variety is the Johnny Jump Up, with its purple and yellow or blue and yellow flower combinations.


One of my favorites, snapdragons come in a variety of colors (orange, red, pink, yellow and white) and heights (6 inches to 4 feet) and that’s the best way to present them. I prefer the low and medium growing cultivars — “Floral Carpet’, ‘Floral Showers’, ‘Snapshot’, ‘Rembrandt’, ‘Sonnet’ and ‘Liberty’ series — but some folks just can’t resist the big, bold ‘Rocket’ series, especially ‘Red Rocket’. Add small amounts of compost and organic fertilizer, and dead-head them for maximum flower production.


Stocks is an old-fashioned cool season annual that should be promoted more often. They come in a variety of colors, but their most endearing feature is the lovely scent they provide either in beds or as a cut flower for the dining room or kitchen.


Primula or primrose is one of our two cool season annuals that are appropriate for shadier areas. Primula flowers come in a variety of colors, but I favor the blues. The one problem of primula: slugs and snails devour them! Use various bait treatments around the base of containers or the edges of beds. Plant 6 inches to 8 inches apart with organic matter and a sprinkling of coffee grounds.


Cyclamen are the aristocrats of the cool season annuals — delicate, showy and pricey. They come is a variety of colors including pink, red, violet, lavender and white. Some hybrids have silver blotching or veins. Cyclamen grow best in partial shade and in moist soils. Plant 6 inches to 8 inches in beds or closer in containers for a more dramatic show.

Keep in mind that all annuals use more water than perennials, but it’s still nice to carve out a little space for a bit of winter color.

Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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