karin_mt_2

Cold-tolerant annuals that are quick from seed to bloom?

karin_mt
2 months ago

Hello fellow gardeners. I'm looking for some simple pleasures to brighten this daunting winter. I have an unheated but well-insulated greenhouse, I'm in Zone 4 Montana, and I'm thinking of growing some cheerful flowers during the late winter/early spring.


Right now I have some beautiful pansies and a delicious assortment of lettuces, which will grow happily for another 3 weeks, then taper off to dormancy, and then re-emerge in late February.


What else can I grow that might work in this situation? I could start seeds now (indoors, on a heat mat if needed) but it seems late for that. I could also start seeds in Feb.


What are some nice things to grow that can tolerate frost and are quick to produce?


Thanks in advance for your advice!

Comments (35)

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    How about calendula? They are pretty cold hardy for early spring. I've never tried growing them in a greenhouse over the winter, just thinking of what are early spring annuals.

    Alyssum would be a favorite for me, they are pretty cold hardy. We had 5 inches of snow about 10 days ago and it stuck around for a couple of days, but then it melted and the alyssum are still growing. Plus they are fragrant and reseed nicely. I can smell them in your greenhouse already!

    How about stock? Another fragrant cool weather annual.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    2 months ago

    I too was thinking of calendula and alyssum, and maybe snapdragons. I'm not quite sure what your goal is though. Are you looking for something that will actually bloom in the winter, or something that will bloom in early spring?

    Along the same idea as the lettuce, spinach would be good, as well as perhaps mustard greens. Maybe too late for this winter but if you grow parsley this spring, I bet you could keep it going all (next) winter in the greenhouse.

    You might want to consider perhaps some early small bulbs - snowdrops, winter aconite, crocus, etc. A few pots of those in the greenhouse will cheer it up! And you can transplant them outside after they bloom.

    :)
    Dee

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  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Good ideas Dee, I actually still have parsley growing well outside in a raised bed. And Bok Choy. And it's been cold the past two days. I was going to cover them with fabric tonight though. In a greenhouse, who knows how long they would keep growing. And if they flower, they can drop their seed and you get a patch that you never have to resow.

    Kale that I've left in the ground, over winter, sometimes starts growing again from the base in the spring, so they are really cold tolerant and the purple varieties are really beautiful.

  • mxk3
    2 months ago

    What exactly do you mean by "cold hardy"? Temps in 30s, 40s, 50s, etc? Not much is going to do well in 30s-40s -- may not outright die but aren't going to do much of anything until temps start to warm. 50s and 60s you're going to have a much better show. Not sure what spring weather is like in Montana, but here in Michigan spring annuals don't really start going until maybe mid-late March (maybe....), April and May are prime time for cool-season spring annuals over here.

  • karin_mt
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Thanks for the ideas!


    To clarify - nothing will actively grow in the greenhouse from Dec through early Feb, but it would be nice to plan now to try to get early blooms after that. So I'm scanning for potential seeds now, with the thought that I'd start them indoors in early Feb then plant them in the greenhouse in late Feb. Then they'd have to survive temps down into the 20s and they'd hopefully bloom in March or thereabouts. By late March it is really lovely in the greenhouse.


    Yes, I always keep parsley in the greenhouse over the winter, and cilantro, kale, etc. They all re-emerge with fresh growth in late winter and it's so restorative and appreciated. So I'm looking to get more of that type of action.


    So, thanks to your kind advice I'm adding calendula, stocks, and alyssum to the list. Is alyssum fairly easy to start from seed? I've never tried it.


    I had another idea which is to move in some perennials from outside and they will spring to life early and satisfy my urge for color. I've got extra dianthus, columbine, and catmint that I could relocate into the greenhouse, and I can scout around the gardens for other ideas.


    Bulbs are a good idea too, but alas, I actually planted them all outside already (not always the case, but got it done this year!)


    Thank you for the helpful thoughts!



  • mxk3
    2 months ago

    Yes, alyssum is very easy from seed as is calendula. Alyssum is one of my favorite spring scents, I really enjoy them until it gets too hot and they poop out. This taller one looks interesting: Alyssum benthamii. I have the seeds but have never grown them out, I should to that this coming season.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    2 months ago

    If you are including perennials, if you have any hellebores in the yard you can move them in for really early blooms. I've had them in bloom outside in February at times here in CT, so if you move them in the green house they may bloom that early for you. Although I don't know if they move easily. They might, I just don't know, lol.

    :)
    Dee

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    I sow Alyssum in the garden. Either I sow them in the fall where I want them in the spring, or in the spring, I scatter on the surface where I want them and keep them watered well until they sprout and they are very fast and easy. And they reseed well for me in areas where I don't mulch very much.

    How about Oriental Poppies for perennials? Mine have usually produced a good rosette of new leaves by the fall and a pretty compact plant to just dig up and replant in a greenhouse. Phlox subulata?

    To me, I'd be thrilled with a greenhouse full of fragrant pansies. [g]

  • mxk3
    2 months ago

    "To me, I'd be thrilled with a greenhouse full of fragrant pansies."


    Me too! Actually, I'd be thrilled to have a greenhouse filled with anything (most especially tomatoes and herbs).

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    2 months ago

    I'd just be happy to have a greenhouse, period. lol. Even if it was empty in the winter!

    :)
    Dee

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    2 months ago

    LOL - see Karin, we are all jealous of your greenhouse! :-)


    I would have found a way to add a greenhouse to the property, if I had any place I could put one that had good sun exposure. But at the same time, I do have to wonder how much I would use it. I would think it takes a pretty high energy person to maintain a greenhouse and make good use of it. And you are gardening in the winter. I garden from March to October and after that I'm usually looking for a rest and more time to pay attention to things that don't get my full attention during the growing season. It is fun though, to think of being able to garden on that scale.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    2 months ago

    PM2, I could have written your last post! Same here - the only good sunny spot for a green house is smack in the middle of my driveway lol. Don't think that would work.

    And honestly, especially since I discovered wintersowing all those years ago, I don't know if I truly have the need for a greenhouse. Maybe it's just the romantic ideal of puttering around in there on a sunny winter's day, with a cup of tea, fiddling with seedlings and maybe a few hardy or tropical blooms, that is appealing.

    Nevertheless, it's on my (actually rather modest) list of things to get if I win the lottery!

    :)
    Dee

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    It's so interesting that there is some greenhouse atmosphere, that may be behind the draw of it. [g] I started shifting my "wants" to a shed, with windows. Here is a photo of a shed that sort of gives you that cup a tea, puttering around vibe. Maybe not the tropical blooms. I love the overstuffed chair that on closer look, appears to be simply wrapped with a sheet and some pillows. Very take apart and washable.


    Shy Rabbit Farm · More Info


    And if you are really going to dream of a greenhouse with a real winter escape vibe....how about this one? LOL


    Greenhouse Living · More Info


  • karin_mt
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Yes I hear you loud and clear for the urge to have a sunny wintertime escape. OTOH, I also relate to the idea of a few months of rest time away from the garden. Usually I'm in the latter camp. I work at a ski area, and I milk our long winters for every ounce of skiing fun, then switch modes quickly and belatedly in the spring.


    But this winter will be different, I fear. It's hard to imagine a normal, fun ski season, and last spring when everything shut down, the greenhouse was my solace. I'm planning for a similar outcome this year (and would be delighted to be wrong).


    Here's our cat Inga snoozing among the pansies last weekend. This is what inspired me to get some more flowers and cheer going for this winter.


  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    I remember that about you, Karin, that you love to ski in the winter. I envy you that as well. :-) Not something I've been able to incorporate into our lives. I did make a few trips to a ski resort one winter a long time ago and being on the top of that mountain on a sunny day...well....I just loved it. It was memorable. And what is a healthier way to get through the winter, than actual physical activity out in the sunshine and fresh air?

    Sorry to hear that you were denied that pleasure, I assume due to Covid? This. year I assume will b more of the same. Maybe there are some high hills near you that you could tube down at least? I see a lot of promotions about getting outside more this winter. I am hoping to do more of that.

    Cats in the garden have to be fun. Is your cat an outdoor cat or is that just in the greenhouse? I know here near the city, most people keep their cats indoors all the time. Afraid of coyotes, since so many cats went missing due to them. We actually have coyotes in our neighborhood, which is very surprising to me. It's a neighborhood of very small lots, right off a couple of main roadways. Very small amount of woodland somewhere nearby. We had an overpopulation of rabbits in the spring and then they were all gone by July from the coyotes.

    Look at those pansies - last weekend?! Wow! I hope you can post photos of your greenhouse at some point. If you can't be out in the winter skiing, definitely what could be better than a greenhouse. :-)

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    So you have more than one cat? Lucky cats....to have a greenhouse to visit during the winter too. They must be good company. You have really got the knack for growing plants, Karin. That must be such a help when you are planning your garden for the growing season. You had a raised bed vegetable garden, if I remember right, still have it?

  • karin_mt
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Thank you Prairiemoon, for your thoughtful and encouraging reply!


    Yes, it was Covid that shut down our ski area abruptly last March, and I was relieved that they did because we work in a crowded locker room, ride a very full bus, etc, so it was nerve-wracking. They are planning on opening, and we'll soon learn if that will work out or not. If not, it's not a problem because I particularly enjoy the human-powered form of skiing, where you climb the slope on your own power and then really appreciate the free ride downhill!


    But maybe that's not the point. We just need some joy in our lives, and we're all lucky that gardening is safe, hopeful, and so satisfying. I'm reluctant to let those emotions go. We'll see what I can come up with to keep the good vibes flowing.


    The cats are dutiful gardeners and they do go outside on their own. They follow me around when I garden outdoors and they love lolling in the greenhouse when it's warm in there. I planted a catmint plant in there for them already, and a patch of lawn grass so they can nibble on it. The pansies had been growing (and declining) outside but I moved them inside and they immediately perked right back up and started blooming.


    OK, I'm off to peruse some seed catalogs. Thanks again for the encouragement and I wholeheartedly recommend any kind of cozy potting shed, conservatory, greenhouse, or sunny spot that you can create!


    I'll post some greenhouse pics tomorrow - further temptation!

  • getgoing100_7b_nj
    2 months ago

    Sweet peas, Shirley poppies, cyclamen, mimulus, petunias, primrose streptocarpus all grow happily in cool weather. For color in winter, especially quickly from seed, try the small/bedding petunias, mimulus and Torenias. They start blooming within a month or so with sufficient light. I look forward to seeing what you have growing in your greenhouse.
    I have a ton of stuff growing in pots on my east/south west windows with supplemental lights. Some tomatoes still growing and/or ripening, chilli and bell peppers and sweet potatoes. Petunia, Dipladenia, dahlia, purslane, Lobelia, stocks, snapdragons, Pentas, and butterfly pea are still blooming. Kalanchoe, torenia, Jasmine polyanthum, grandiflora, stephanotis are in bud. Of course, some of these do require warmer temperatures than an insulated greenhouse.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    2 months ago

    PM2, that first picture of a shed is lovely - nicer than most spaces in my house lol. I can easily see curling up with a book and a cup of tea, surrounded by some seedlings, and spending a winter afternoon there. The other photo is impressive, but leaves room for too many other people, lol. After all, the whole point for me is to have peace, quiet, greenery, and warm sunshine.

    Karin your lettuces and greens look wonderful. Thank goodness you, like me, have a cat or two to supervise and inspect!

    :)
    Dee

  • karin_mt
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Getgoing, that's an excellent list, thank you! Wow, it sounds like you have an impressive windowsill garden. That sounds so cheerful! I'll check into some of those seeds and see if some might work.


    One thing I realized today is the sun is so low already that two big spruce trees block the midday sun from the greenhouse. This is a severe bummer that I hadn't realized before. Those trees were much smaller when we built the greenhouse. But now, the one time of day that the greenhouse can gain some heat it's in the shade. This will resolve in mid-Feb, I think, when the sun gets higher.


    Thanks, DiggerDee - and yes, the cats are an essential part of the whole equation!

  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
    2 months ago

    Lots of the plants on getgoing’s list, while beautiful, are neither annuals nor hardy enough to overwinter in an unheated greenhouse in z4, however well insulated it is. In fact, looking closely, I don’t think any of those plants will work, except possibly the snapdragons if you have some already in flower which could be moved into it. What exactly is the minimum temperature reached in your greenhouse? IMO you aren’t going to get anything started from seed this late the season and expect blooms over winter.


    The hellebores are a good suggestion. They’d cope with the temperatures and the protection would mean they might bloom a little earlier with undamaged flowers. Christmas roses come to mind. Some pots of small bulbs like early crocus, aconites, corydalis or snowdrops could work too but you’re too late to plant them. You’d need to buy ready planted pots. If you can find wallflowerplants they’re hardy, colourful and fragrant in early spring. Polyanthus and forget me nots are also early. But you’d need to get plants, not seed.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    2 months ago

    I had thought of forget-me-nots as well. As a matter of fact I had a whole little paragraph on them in a previous post above, but then deleted it. I deleted it because, as pretty as FMNs are, in my garden they turned into kind of a pest, and it took me some years to get them under control after I realized how vigorous they were. I don't like to recommend things that are a pain for me, even though I know that other's experience may be different. I had visions of your greenhouse being full of FMNs growing in every corner, lol, and you muttering at me under your breath as you pulled them!

    So, that's a long way of saying do your research, and if you try them, just keep an eye on them if you don't want them spreading too much.

    And I do think you can plant seed (as well as bulbs) now, if you are going for early spring bloom, not winter bloom.

    You're going to have to make sure you post photos of your greenhouse in February and March!

    :)
    Dee

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    2 months ago

    I had a thought - what would happen if. you put winter sowing containers in the greenhouse for even more protection for seedlings to sprout earlier in spring?

  • karin_mt
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    To Floral's point, things don't necessarily need to overwinter, and I agree that annuals would not survive that. The minimum temp in there in the depths of January is around zero (F). But it warms up quickly by late February, and that's when I could get some early cheer going. If I started seeds indoors in early/mid Feb, I could have decent seedlings to plant in the greenhouse by late Feb. At that point, the lows would be in the 20s, but I can cover things - I have a very good fleet of frost blankets!


    Pansies are still a definite go, and some early poppies as Getgoing suggested look like a good fit. Calendula and alyssum are also on the short list. I'll look into FMN. I sure do love them but am wary of re-seeding. That said, weeding the greenhouse is mighty easy!


    I can't do hellebore or cyclamen because I worry about toxicity to cats. The cats are so keen on greenery in the wintertime that they nibble on just about anything. They both got quite sick in October from geraniums (pelagonium) that we brought inside the house during a cold snap.


    PrairieMoon, yes, winter sowing would work perfectly - except I'm already flush with perennials. But it might be interesting to try a few penstemon or poppies, which I always love.


    This is a great diversion - thank you all for contributing to the conversation. Every moment I can scheme about pansies and butter lettuce is a moment I'm not swearing at the news - a win-win!

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    2 months ago

    You could always grow some cat grass for your kitties. That is dead easy on a windowsill and fast!! And cats will go to that rather than to some other, potentially toxic greenery. Most pet supply outfits carry seeds and growing kits and seeds are widely available online.

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    I am all for avoiding the news and the aggravation! :-)

    Have you read Elliott Coleman/s books - Four Season Harvest? I know they have a greenhouse [hoophouse?] on the back of their house, attached. They grow n zone 5 Maine but he has grown in zone 3 before too. His wife Barbara Damrosch is the flower grower in the family. I couldn't find an article on what she might grow in the winter/early spring.

    Karin, I think a lot of cold hardy annual flowers are winter sown too. It's really doing the same thing you're planning to do, just using milk cartons or similar to just add another layer of protection from cold to speed up the time things start growing. If you are planning to plant directly into the soil in your greenhouse, you could just take plastic gallon milk jugs and cut the bottom off and just cover the seedlings in that way. A little more trouble granted. I buy those large plastic bottles of white vinegar and I'm saving those to make some great caps for early season growing.

    You can also add gallon bottles of water that will increase the heat in the space. More thermal mass, like bricks on the floor. Elliot Coleman has brick walkways in his.

    There's a book called. Cool Flowers written by a woman trying to extend her season and she focuses on Hardy Annuals.

    And there's a long list of hardy annuals to use for winter sowing at this link...

    Winter Sowing Annuals

    I just read a reference that said for every layer of protection you add, you add another zone. So a greenhouse - one zone warmer - a hoop house or cold frame [or a milk jug] in a greenhouse - two zones warmer.

  • karin_mt
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    That's a definite yes, GardenGal! I grow pots of cat grass/oat grass for them in the spring, and this year I have a patch of turf grass that I dug up from the lawn and stuck in the greenhouse and that's already been a hit.


    I usually grow some pots of cat grass to bring inside in early spring and it's hilarious how they go bananas for it. Simple pleasures, I guess!

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    2 months ago

    PM2, I'm familiar with Coleman and Damrosch, but thanks for the link to the Cool Flowers book. That looks interesting and I'll have to look into it!

    :)
    Dee

  • deanna in ME Barely zone 6a, more like 5b
    2 months ago

    What an informative post. I only want to add one minor (and useless) thing. Diggerdee, when we win the lottery, I'm getting both a greenhouse AND a gardener with a strong back.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    2 months ago

    Deanna, that comment is neither minor nor useless. I plan on doing the exact same thing!

    :)
    Dee

  • karin_mt
    Original Author
    last month

    Prairiemoon, I didn't see your earlier response and excellent recommendation for those books. Great advice, thank you! I do have Four Season Harvest and just pulled it off my bookshelf to re-read. It's been awhile since I've read it. Perfect idea! And the Cool Flowers book looks like exactly what I'm interested in. It's officially on the Christmas wish list.


    Next I'll dig into winter sowing a bit more. I'm game to try it, especially this year.


    This is perfect - I really appreciate the advice and camaraderie!


    The lettuce crop is looking good but has slowed wayyyy down. My plan to bring in more perennials was foiled by the fact that the ground is frozen, so that's a bummer. But the original 4 pansies that started this whole thing are still looking awesome, and yes, they do smell so good!


    Meanwhile, I've ordered new shelving for the greenhouse. The original shelves were very clever, but plastic eventually degrades in the sunlight and breaks into a zillion fragments. I'm also getting a sink (which I've wanted forever) and we're going to construct a new potting bench. All part of the plan to upgrade the greenhouse and extend its mental health benefits. It's absolutely helpful already, even just in the planning phases.


    So I certainly encourage some lottery dreaming - since so much of gardening is about the dreaming and scheming. Even in the depths of winter, the planning and sense of hopefulness continues undiminished!


    Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all!





  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Karin, I am a big fan of Elliot Coleman. A fascinating gardener and he comes up with such creative solutions.

    Glad to hear your pansies are still looking good. Love your plans to have a work bench with a sink. You’re going to be firing on all cylinders!

    What is your long range weather forecast for the winter there? I looked up ours in this area, and looks like we could possibly have a very warm winter again. If it were true for you, that might really lend a hand with your plans.

    I agree that a lot of gardening is about the dreaming and scheming. I enjoy that stage of gardening when anything is possible, even when I might even anticipate not being able to get to execute those schemes any time soon. [g]

    Looking forward to more photos as you go along. Yes, Happy Thanksgiving weekend - a very different Thanksgiving, but always much to be thankful for!

  • karin_mt
    Original Author
    last month

    Our winter is off to a dry start. It's mild but not super warm. It's not great for skiing, unfortunately, but over the long weekend I took advantage of the snow-free yard to get some tasks done that I didn't think I'd ever get around to. Were you in the same boat to get some things done in the mild weather?


    Here's to lots more dreaming and scheming, even/especially as we return to work after a luxuriously long weekend!


    (Elliot Coleman book has been my bedtime reading, which is a perfect way to wrap up the day - such a good suggestion!)

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Yes, it was gorgeous here today, sunny and warm in a sweatshirt for part of the day....but we ended up visiting with our daughter in the yard with her new puppy and she helped my husband do the gutters. [g]. Full moon with clear skies tonight.

    Yes...I usually don't start scheming about the garden until the New Year. So much going on in December!