Cold Loving Spring Containers

Who says you have to plant your containers in May after the danger of a final frost? I have plants in my containers all year long and start in early March after pulling out Christmas greens using the long list of early spring flowers that can tolerate and love chilly weather.

Pink English daisies (bellis), viola 'purple picotee', blue woodland phlox, and yellow
Pink English Daisies (Bellis), Viola ‘Purple Picotee’, blue Woodland Phlox, and yellow Poppies

There are so many flowers that you can use before the cold subsides that I make up at least a dozen containers  to cheer me up after a long cold winter. Having hung up my winter coat and gotten out fleeces, I am ready to plant.

Alyssum, Azalea, Violas, and Snapdragons

I recently had a cold snap in April where the nighttime temps went down to about 29 degrees. I placed a frost blanket over my containers and they sailed through without any problems.

Time to put on a frost blanket when the temps dip below 30 degrees
Time to put on a frost blanket when the temps dip below 32 degrees
English Daisies, Primrose, and Violas make a classic cold tolerant container
Orange Nemesia, white Alyssum, Violas, English Daisies, Pink Petunias, and perennial Scabiosa


Violas, Bergenia, and Dianthus
Violas, Nemesia, and Sempervivum

Hardy Annuals

Hardy annual plants are the most cold-tolerant annual plants. They can handle a slight freeze and are good choices for early fall and early spring plantings. A sustained freeze though will do them in. Hardy annual plants will  do much better in the ground, rather than in containers, since the ground will insulate roots better than the small amount of soil in a container. And plants that have had time to adjust to increasingly cold weather will be hardier than those that suddenly encounter it. So, don’t buy plants that were in a greenhouse and set them outside without hardening them off. This just means acclimatizing them to cooler temperatures gradually.

Here are my list of cold tolerant annuals:

  • Pansies & Violas
  • Calendula
  • Foxglove
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Larkspur
  • Snapdragon
  • Nemesia
  • Swiss Chard
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Culinary Sage
  • Anemones
  • Ranunculus
  • Poppies
  • Cerinthe or Honeywort
  • Chinese Forget Me Not
  • Cornflower
  • Nasturtiums
  • Bells of Ireland
  • Petunias
  • Cornflower
  • Sweet Peas
  • Lobelia
  • Love in a Mist
    This list is by no means inclusive of all annuals that thrive in cool temperatures, but it offers a good selection of colorful and easy-to-grow flowers.

For early season flowers to plant in your cutting garden, read on:

Nigella damascena or "Love-in-the-Mist"

Nigella or “Love in the Mist”

Love in the Mist is an apt name for these blue jewels held in a green mist of foliage
Beautiful poppy, photographed by Pam Corckran
Beautiful poppy, photographed by Pam Corckran
Honeybees love poppies

Winter is the time to sow your Cool Season Annuals as soon as the soil can be “worked”. This term is gardening slang for soil with a texture that is neither mud nor frozen! After determining that my soil was ready by drawing a rake through it, I gathered my cool season annual seeds together with plant stakes, sharpie for marking, and my favorite multi-bladed sowing rake. On the menu for sowing was Poppies, Bells of Ireland, Love-in-the-Mist, and Calendula.

Bells of Ireland
Cerinthe or Honeywort
Cerinthe or Honeywort


Calendula seed packet on wooden stake
Calendula seed packet on wooden stake

Cool Season Annuals differ from annuals that you sow after the danger of frost is past because the seeds need cold temperatures to germinate and cool temps to grow well in the garden. When hot weather hits, they are history and I pull them out to make way for annuals that relish the hot weather. Poppies are one of my all-time favorite flowers and I make sure to plant plenty. If you are into blue poppies, go to my post on Blue Poppies.

Blue Poppy at Longwood Gardens
‘Lauren’s Grape’ Poppy
Annual poppy, I don’t know the variety
Lady Bird Poppy at Great Dixter
Lady Bird Poppy
An annual poppy blooming in June
An annual double poppy blooming in June

My honey bees love the poppies and go into a frenzy when they are blooming.

Growing quickly in the cool temperatures of late winter and early spring, the cool season annuals are old-fashioned flowers that you would find scattered in an English cottage garden. Best sown outdoors, these flowers are frost tolerant and grow quickly to give you a much-needed dose of color after the long winter. If you want to plant edibles like brassicas, go to pegplant  who writes an excellent blog on gardening and is a fellow GWA member.


‘Love in the Mist’ seed head catching the rain drops

Raking the soil with my sowing rake is the only preparation needed. I broadcast sprinkle the seeds as evenly as possible, using dry hands, then tamp down the soil firmly with the rake, not adding any additional soil. Sprinkling the surface with bits of straw or leaves helps keep the soil moist and hopefully hides the seed from wandering birds. I spray a light mist of water on top to moisten the surface and wait with anticipation.

Striped seed head of Love in the MistSowing seeds with my favorite rake


Sowing seeds with my favorite rake

Raking the soil
Sprinkle straw loosely over the planting bed to hold in moisture and hide seeds from birds

Beautiful form of Love in the Mist

Popping up quickly through the leaf litter, weeding and sprinkling with water is necessary if we hit a dry spell. Then it is time for the color show! Cutting flowers from these early blooms make great arrangements in the house.

Poppy seed heads are great dried and used in arrangements
Poppy seed heads are great dried and used in arrangements
Nigella or Love-in-the-Mist seed pods are beautiful
Nigella or Love-in-the-Mist seed pods are beautiful
Double fringed peony
Double fringed poppy

Fore a great video on planting cool flowers, go to Cool Flowers, a great website by Lisa Ziegler.

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