Since cold weather has finally arrived, the summer color plants are deciding enough is enough. My go-to, cool-season trio of Matrix pansies, Sorbet violas and Telstar dianthuses are glad because they're tired of sharing the landscape stage with the summer hangers-on.
But before we know it, the siren call of spring will be heard, and the cool-season color will start to wear out its welcome. It will only take a couple of warm days before the spring color plants will start showing up in garden stores, whispering in our ears to buy and take them home.
In the meantime, we can enjoy cool-season color. Snapdragons are a good choice, and there is a lot of variety from which to choose. I want to alert you to look out for unique color annuals that I like and which will certainly brighten up your spring landscape.
One I recommend is the snapdragon relative diascia.
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These are cheerful plants that produce loads of delicate flowers that cover the mounding foliage. This plant is becoming more popular because it can be planted earlier than most spring color.
Diascia are vigorous and cold-tolerant plants commonly called "twin spurs" due to descending spurs on the back of the flower.
Good choices are the bright-red Wink Garnet or the glowing-orange Whisper Pumpkin. Two newer series worth looking for are the Romeo and Juliets. Flower colors range from pure white and warm red to orange and bright pink. Mississippi State University is growing this series in our plant trials.
While you can plant diascias in cool-season landscape beds, I think the best use is in containers, either alone or as part of a combination container. We're finding this to be true in our MSU trial locations.
Fall plantings in landscape beds have not really performed well, probably a result of the extremely wet weather we had in October and November. With their increased drainage, container plantings have fared better.
One question we're interested in at our MSU plant trial sites is if we can plant in the fall and carry the plants over into the spring, like pansies and violas.
Like their cousin nemesia, more diascia hybrids are being developed for use as colorful annual bedding plants for the spring and early summer.
As long as temperatures stay mild -- 70s during the day and 50s at night -- diascias will continue to bloom prolifically. This seems to make them perfectly suited to Mississippi fall gardens. Really low temperatures or the soil drying out temporarily shuts down flowering.
Last spring, I saw that a few garden centers had diascias in their inventories, so keep your eyes open this year. If you're interested in having these in your 2016 garden, don't be shy. Go ahead and ask your local garden center to see if they can get some in stock for you.
Gary Bachman, is a professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.