5 Flowers to Grow Through Winter in Southern California
In my last post, I covered the main crops I grow during the cool season here in zone 10b, but did not quite get around to the discussion of flowers—which really bothered me because you know I love flowers. ♥ This article will go over some of my favorite Winter flowers to grow, but be aware that there are more! If you have to prioritize space (like I do) you’ll find that most of these flowers serve multiple purposes and are therefore great additions to small gardens.
The cool season (or Fall/Winter) here in zone 10b, Southern California, extends from October/November-April/May. We don’t get temperatures below 30 degrees F, and our rare frosts usually happen anywhere from December-February. When I talk about plants for the cool season, this usually means I plant them out into the garden (or direct sow) at the beginning of the season in Fall and maybe again after we have our frosts.
Related article: Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern California
Flower Seeds or Transplants?
Before I get to listing my favorite Winter flowers to grow, I’d like to remind you that I start most of my plants from seed. For the cool season plants listed here, I usually have to start my seeds in Fall (you can watch my 2023 Fall Sow-Along). This is mainly because the varieties you can purchase as seeds are far more interesting, colorful, and unique than what most nurseries offer. Growing from seed also saves me money from year to year—and I even trade seeds with my garden friends so we can all try new varieties without having to buy entire seed packets. If you are intimidated at the idea of growing a garden from seed, please check out my Seed Starting section or feel free to leave a comment and I’d love to help. You can also find a list of dependable and quality seed sources on my Where I Buy Seeds page.
That being said, sometimes it is much more convenient and helpful to buy transplants at a nursery. If you have a local nursery and prefer to purchase baby plants or “starts” I’m happy to say that I’ve seen most of the flowers on this list sitting on nursery shelves just waiting for a place in your garden.
For a specific list of crops, along with monthly sowing recommendations, be sure to check out my Current Season Seed Schedule (available to all subscribers)!
Calendula (calendula officinalis)
Calendula is probably my favorite Winter flower. Now, for many other areas of the country, calendula is a Spring and Summer flower, but in zone 10b I find that my calendula grows best in our cool season. The plants will survive and produce some blooms through the Summer, but in our heat they typically stay small and produce smaller blooms in the hotter months.
Why grow calendula? Not only is calendula cheery and beautiful, but it is also well known for its edible and healing properties. Dried calendula blooms can be infused into oil to make salve or my favorite calendula whipped body butter. The fresh petals looks inviting when sprinkled over salads. Calendula is also a wonderful companion plant for brassicas. While companion planting is not foolproof, I do find that pairing calendula with brassicas and alliums in the winter garden is a winning combination! Finally, calendula is one of the best self-seeding flowers that will provide you with plants for seasons to come!
If growing calendula for healing purposes, I recommend growing the ‘resina’ variety. This specific type of calendula is supposed to have the highest content of resins (the main healing component) than any other type. Check out these resina calendula seeds!
Related Article: Top 10 Flowers for a Potager Garden~ Calendula made my list!
Pansies (Viola x Wittrockiana)
Jazz up those winter harvest baskets with these edible flowers! Pansies look gorgeous sprinkled over salads, sugared and placed atop desserts, or even pressed to make some flower frames like these. Pansies do not grow to be very tall, so use them more around the borders of your garden for a pop of color.
Pansies just might be the ideal Winter flower to grow. I can personally attest to the frost tolerance of pansies. A couple years ago we had a frost of about 30 degrees F where I found my pansy foliage completely frozen like ice cubes. By midday, they were just fine and back to normal. That is not always the case for some flowers, such as nasturtiums (discussed below). I grew all the pansies in the picture above from seed, and I would consider them pretty easy to start from seed at home. Cheaper too! Just give them ample time to germinate and know that they aren’t the fastest growers.
In terms of growing pansies from seed, it is much more difficult than other winter flowers to get them to germinate. On the other hand, once you have pansies in your garden, they will self-sow/seed readily. Haha! Personally, unless there is a specific variety you want to grow, I recommend buying pansies from your local nursery and planting them.
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)
I like snapdragons because they create visual interest with their spire-like shape. They are also easy to grow and had no problem surviving some frost in our garden (note: the lowest temperature we get is about 30 degrees F but they are rumored to survive down to 18 Degrees F).
Snapdragons make an excellent cut flower for the Winter garden and add color to the landscape. While they can be grown as short-lived perennials in mild climates, I have had the best success growing them as annuals in regards to reliability.
I am a huge fan of the ‘madame butterfly series‘ snapdragons. They are a type of snapdragon that is full, frilly, and fluffy (pictured below)!
Stock (Matthiola Incana)
Do you like flowers that smell good? Well, you need to grow stock! It’s hard to describe the smell of these luscious flowers, but it’s extremely powerful and somewhere between a tuberose and a gardenia, maybe?
Stock makes an excellent cut flower, although it can bother some people that are sensitive to strong smells. I grew stock for the first time last year and enjoyed it so much, yet also learned some important growing tips:
Tips for growing stock:
Stock comes in two varieties: column and spray
Columnar stock only has one central stem, which means you should not pinch the top. This will essentially remove the only flower tip. Column varieties will only give you one flower stalk per stem.
Spray varieties will branch on their own but are also good for pinching.
When purchasing seeds, I recommend buying a spray variety of stock. It’s a lot more worthwhile!
Stock will self sow like many of my favorite self sowing flowers on this list.
According to the Johnny’s Selected Seeds website, stock is an edible flower: “The peppery, clove-like flavor of the flowers lends itself well to use as a garnish on salads, desserts, and drinks.” Between it’s delicious smell and the fact that it can be an edible garnish, I’d say stock is very high on my list of Winter flowers to grow.
Another dual-purpose, edible flower for the Fall & Winter garden! Nasturtiums come in all sorts of colors and growing habits. Some are more bush-like while others tend to spill over garden beds and grow almost like a ground cover. I’m going to try to grow mine vertically like vines this Winter. If you’ve never made nasturtium leaf pesto, you’ve got to try it! The seeds can also be pickled like “capers” and the flowers themselves have a slight peppery flavor.
Remember how I mentioned companion planting for calendula and brassicas? Well, nasturtiums can also act as a trap crop for cabbage caterpillars that typically go after brassica leaves. The idea is that those green caterpillars will eat your nasturtium plants instead of your cabbages and kale. I talk about this and more organic pest control in How to Prevent Pesky Cabbage Caterpillars.
While I find nasturtiums easy to grow, there are some things to note about their preferred climate. First, nasturtiums don’t like Summer heat here in zone 10b. Mine quickly fade away unless planted in shade in our hotter months—Fall and Winter actually end up providing the best climate for these amazing, edible flowers. Second, they are unfortunately NOT frost tolerant—the water content in their leaves ends up turning them to slime after a frost. So, when is the best time to sow nasturtium seeds? Simply direct sow them in Fall for a Winter crop, and again after the last frost for a Spring crop. In all honesty, I let my nasturtiums go wild and self seed, so they decide when to pop up and grow, but definitely include this lovely ground cover in your cool season garden.
Grow that Winter Garden!
You know I’m a big fan of intermixing flowers and vegetables. It’s colorful, fun, and also provides great benefits for pollinators and other beneficial bugs. I hope these flowers have inspired you to add them to your garden spaces this Fall & Winter. Don’t forget to check out my Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for a list of vegetables you can grow with these flowers and subscribe to my blog to get all the monthly updates, reminders, and recipes!
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