Plant Flowers and Veggies for Winter Color

You will find more than just pansies awaiting your landscape at garden centers this autumn! As the exciting trend of cool season gardening grows, more and more winter hardy annuals are making their way into local nurseries. Winter hardy annuals are plants like pansies that are planted in fall to grow during the cool part of the year, providing color through the winter and early spring. Many of these plants are both ornamental and edible and can be planted in landscapes as well as gardens. 


Veggies Go Mainstream!

The biggest development in winter annuals over the last few years has been the use of vegetables as ornamental plants. Low growing ornamental cabbages and kales, with green leaves splashed in purple, rose or white have been popular for several years. They are gorgeous in fall and early winter, but can start to look ragged by February. If youíre looking for something a little more durable and taller try Red Russian or Redbor kale.

These two varieties grow to three feet tall and two feet wide and are equally at home in the vegetable garden or flower border. Red Russian is a delicious heirloom variety that sports feathery, jagged-edged blue green leaves and rosy-purple stems and midribs. For even more drama, seek out Redbor with spectacular dark purple, frilly-edged leaves. Both of these varieties look good through April, at which time they produce spikes of yellow flowers that are great for attracting beneficial insects.


Charming Chard and Monster Mustard

Another vegetable that has crossed over the veggie garden fence is Swiss chard. This beet relative has large leaves with distinct, broad stalks that grow up to two feet tall. Traditionally the stalks on this plant are white, but the relatively new Bright Lights variety sports stalks in showy colors like yellow, orange, pink, red and violet. They make quite a statement in the garden, mixed containers or a salad bowl! 

A perfect companion for these colorful chards is the monster mustard known as Red Giant. This two-foot tall and wide burgundy leaved variety of mustard is commonly grown in Japan for use in stir-fries and salads. Its hot and spicy leaves certainly add punch, whether for the eyes or taste buds. The fiery flavor of Red Giant also deters foliage feeders such as deer, rabbits and squirrels. Plants remain stunning all winter and are topped with spikes of small yellow flowers in spring.


Soothing Silver

If you seek to cool things down a bit, try the silvery leaves of dusty miller or Powis Castle artemisia. Dusty miller generally grows to less than one foot tall and produces yellow, button like flowers in spring, while Powis Castle Artemisia will form two to three foot tall and wide mounds. Both of these plants have finely cut, lacy leaves and are deer resistant, drought tolerant perennials that grow best in full sun. For more fabulous winter foliage, plant winter hardy herbs like curly leaf parsley and variegated or purple leaf sage.


Edible Flowers

Show off the fantastic foliage of these plants against the bright flowers of winter hardy annuals like English daisies, snapdragons, China pinks and pansies. Especially cute are the new mini-flowered viola type pansies whose blossoms more than make up for their small size by being produced in generous amounts. Look out for Sorbet and Penny strains, both available in shades and mixes of blue, purple, lavender, yellow, white and orange.

In addition to adding color to the landscape, the flowers of pansies, violas, China pinks, English daisies, and snapdragons are edible, and can be added to salads or other dishes for a splash of color. Even if you donít eat the blossoms, include these winter and spring bloomers in your yard to provide a source of early season nectar for pollinators.


Learn More!

Contact your local Extension office to learn more about growing edible and ornamental plants. If you live in Pender County, call 259-1235. In New Hanover County, call 798-7660. In Brunswick County call 253-2610, or visit you can post your questions to be answered via the Ask an Expert widget. Visit the Pender Gardener blogto stay up to date with all the latest gardening news,


Charlotte Glen is a Horticulture Agent with Pender County Cooperative Extension of NC State University, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at