Cold weather plants and flowers are those which are sturdy enough to withstand consistently cool temperatures and the occasional frost, ice storm or snowstorm. Many fall vegetables and flowers last throughout the winter months if the winter is mild enough, so consider those plants you saw at the nursery or garden center in the fall as potential additions to the garden during the winter months. As long as the soil can be worked, you can continue to plant, although keep in mind that prolonged deep freezes and heavy snowfalls may kill even the hardiest plants.
Choices for Cold Weather Plants and Flowers
There are many possible choices of cold weather plants and flowers for the garden. Not all are suitable for every gardening zone, so check with your local County Cooperative Extension office or look in a good plant encyclopedia or guide to determine suitability for your location.
Some vegetables prefer cool or cold temperatures and continue to grow throughout the winter months. Most should be started in the outdoor garden bed in the fall, although some may be planted in late winter, depending on your gardening zone. Onions, chives and leeks all do well in the cold weather garden. Fall-sown spinach, chard and kale may survive winter too, especially with a bit of protection such as mulch or a cold frame. You can snip off the outer leaves for a meal or salad and leave the rest of the plant in the garden to continue to grow and thrive.
Ornamental Kale and Cabbage
Although most people think of kale and cabbage as vegetables to eat, ornamental varieties abound, and these provide attractive accents in the garden. Ornamental varieties can withstand cold temperatures and often have attractive, bright pink, magenta and green foliage. Ruffled leaves add interest to the garden.
Pansies are often thought of as spring flowers, but in zones 7 through 10 they can be planted in the fall for winter flowers. Many will survive if given just a little bit of protection against the worst winter onslaughts.
Witch hazel are shrubs or small trees that produce wintertime blossoms, earning the plant the nickname of Winterbloom. You may know the name from beauty preparations. The barks and leaves are often distilled in alcohol to create an astringent for oily skin. Witch hazel shrubs and trees produce yellow flowers during January or February, brightening the dreary winter landscape. They can grow up to 20 feet tall so choose the location for your witch hazel wisely, keeping it away from power lines and far enough away from the house so it doesn't grow against the structure.
A discussion of cold weather plants and flowers would be incomplete without mentioning hellebores. Hellebores or Lenten Roses are small plants that bloom December through March. They have bell-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink and dark pink or red.
Many evergreen shrubs provide bright spots of green in the landscape throughout the cold winter months. Holly, with its variegated leaves and bright red berries on the female plants offers an attractive landscaping option. Junipers also provide attractive silvery-green foliage and blue-gray berries in the winter. Both holly and juniper attract birds to the garden, too, by providing hiding places during inclement weather as well as berries to eat.
Other Plants to Consider
What about those tulip bulbs you forgot to plant? As long as you can still dig into the soil deeply enough to plant them to the recommended depth, go ahead and plant them. They do need a prolonged period of cold weather, but even a few weeks underground should be plenty of time for them to get ready for their spring show.