Plant a Pot of Purple for the Winter

When you get a really cold spell fairly early in the winter it leaves things looking a bit on the drab side for 6 or 8 weeks.

Thanks to what hit us a couple of weeks ago, that’s the story across much of Texas right now, so I thought it might be a good time to encourage some mid-winter plantings to perk up your bloomers.

In honor of the TCU Horned Frogs in their quest for the College Football National Championship next Monday night, let’s plant purple this time around.*

Here are some plants that would be happy to be seen in the same big patio pot together. They’ll do well in cool weather unless temperatures drop into the mid- to high-20s. At that point you’ll either need to wrap them in frost cloth and push them up against the house or move them into the garage for the duration. That depends on where you are in Texas and how cold it might get between now and early March.


• Purple stocks. This would be the center of our patio pot, as it were, the “thriller” plant that stands proud and tall and calls out for attention. Most varieties grow to be 10 to 14 inches tall and their single or semi-double flowers are borne on heavy stems. Many types are distinctly fragrant. Purple larkspurs would be somewhat taller but they aren’t quite as winter-hardy and you probably won’t find them quite as far along in garden centers just yet.

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Fairy primrose

• Fairy primrose (Primula malacoides). This might be a “filler” flower in our pot. The plants grow to be the size of a volleyball and cover themselves with sprays of pinkish-purple blooms. Its rounded leaves make a nice display, but they can cause skin irritation, so it’s advisable that you wear gloves when working with the plant. You may see it listed as a perennial, but in Texas it must be considered to be an annual.

Double purple pinks

• Double purple pinks. These relatives of greenhouse carnations are another candidate for our “filler” flowers. Their steel-blue foliage contrasts beautifully with the purple blooms. Pinks are much more commonly seen in smaller varieties with flowers of pink, white and lavender. If you see this purple one, grab it.

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• Violas. Small-statured cousins to pansies, these are sweetly fragrant and long-flowering. They double both as “fillers” and “spillers” with elements of both classes of growth. You’ll find purple-flowering types without faces as well as the two-toned types as I’ve shown. They are the most winter-hardy of all the plants that I’m listing if that’s any type of concern for you.

Sweet alyssum mixture
Sweet alyssum white

• Sweet alyssum. Here we definitely have our “spiller” flowers. These grow to only 3 to 4 inches tall, but the plants spread to 8 to 12 inches wide. They will tumble across the soil surface and over and out of the pots. They become the “lawn” to this landscape, or the “carpet” to this room. Depending on the look that you’re after, you can opt for pure white or a mixture of purple, rose and white flowers.

Photo credits: I took all of these photos at Calloway’s Nurseries in the DFW area in October and late December 2021. It’s quite likely that they will have most of these plants available again now. If not, they’ll have plenty of alternatives for your planting enjoyment. (As will other independent retail nurseries across Texas.)

* My wife Lynn and I met at, and both graduated from Ohio State University. Our son Brian is statistician for the broadcast team for TCU football. Our other son Todd lives and works in Los Angeles. We were all hoping for a matchup between TCU and Ohio State at this Monday’s college championship. How close it all came, but those Georgia Bulldogs had other ideas. The University of Georgia is a fine school. I have good friends who are graduates and who live and work there, but for this event I’m hoping they’ll forgive me: Go Frogs!

Posted by Neil Sperry
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