Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on January 1, 2001. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Container Gardening Brightens Up Winter
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Many Mississippi gardeners are big on container gardening during the spring, summer and even fall, but once cold weather hits, the pots start to look kind of dismal. Take heart gardeners, we still can brighten up those cold dreary porches, patios and decks.
Our choices are better than you think. We can choose from pansies like the new Delta Fire, cabbage, kale, dianthus like the new Purple Bouquet, snapdragons like the trailing Lumenaire, bulbs and one of my winter favorites that usually start showing up in January, the primula.
Believe it or not, growers in Mississippi produce some of the highest quality, most beautiful primulas around. Unfortunately, most of them are shipped out of the state because we haven't quite created the demand. Our consumers simply don't know what to do with them yet.
Primula comes from the Latin word which means "firstling of spring." There are about 400 species of primulas, which are mostly alpine perennials with short rhizomes.
I have planted several primulas in terra cotta bowls on my front porch the past few years. They usually bloom profusely well into May when the heat takes them out. But when you think about those bright colors on the porch during the coldest months, then this plant is worth the annual purchase.
One thing that makes primulas all the more unique is that they really do not want full sun. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade or high filtered light. We can use the other winter blooming plants in full sun.
Primulas come in a wide range of colors that are breathtakingly bold and bright and will provide an immediate impact. There are even some with two-toned colors. You can space three plants about five inches apart in a 15-inch terra cotta bowl to create a really colorful garden. Don't be afraid to stick in a couple of daffodil bulbs, too!
I am partial to the primulas known in the trade as the Primula acaulis hybrids. These have fairly short flower stalks, and colors that are so bold they almost look artificial. The Crayon, Lira and Quantum are the most popular in this group.
The next biggest group is known as the Primula obconica hybrids. These have taller flower stalks. The colors are very pretty and just not quite as bold. The Libra and Juno series are the most popular in this group.
Whether you choose primulas or some of the other plants I mentioned for winter color, choose a good, light, well-drained mix for your container. If the bargain bag is so heavy you can hardly pick it up, select a more expensive brand.
Plant at the same depth as the original pot. Look for plants with healthy foliage that fills up their container. Keep your plants moist and feed with a dilute water-soluble, 20-20-20 fertilizer that has minor-nutrients. Be sure to keep old flowers removed for a tidy appearance and increased flower productivity.
Container gardening in the winter is as fun as in the spring and summer. In fact, it may give you more satisfaction, especially when you gaze out over the brown lawn.