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Tough Annual Flowers That Can Survive a Fall Frost

Fall is right around the corner and the threat of the first frost is looming. Some gardeners will watch the forecast intently and when frost shows in the forecast, they will make sure to cover their precious plants. Some gardeners, myself included, choose not to prolong the inevitable and let nature take its course. But, you know what – there are many annual flowers that can survive a fall frost and keep blooming until a hard freeze takes them out.

These cold hardy annuals include many gardener favorites. And, in fact, many of these annual flowers will actually perk up when cooler temperatures arrive in the fall.

Colorful fall garden with wheelbarrow full of annual flowers to be planted.

Just a Bit of Information About Frost

As the temperatures begin to drop in autumn, the threat of frost becomes a reality. Frost happens when the temperatures hit freezing (32℉ or 0℃), which is considered a light frost. When this happens most tender plants die.

For the purposes of this article, we will explore more cold-hardy annual flowers that can survive temperatures as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit (around 4 degrees Celsius). 

In order for these flowers to survive a light frost, it’s best if they are established. Although you will see some of these flowers on lists of early spring annual flowers, most are not.

The difference between spring frosts and autumn frosts is the ground temperature. In many USDA gardening zones, in spring you’re still dealing with very cold soil temperatures and annual plants can’t become established in cold soil.

Whereas in early fall that is not the case because although the air temperatures are chilly, the ground temperatures are still warm and unless you just planted fresh annual flowers, the plants are well established. In other words, existing plants will fare much better against freezing temperatures than young plants.

Marigolds covered with a fall frost.

How To Know When to Expect Frost

Do you know your estimated first frost date? For gardeners in Zone 3, the date is fast approaching. For those of us in Zones 4 and 5, we’re not far behind. Gardeners in warmer USDA hardiness zones, probably wish their first frost date would come sooner.

Check your estimated first frost date here by simply entering your zip code. (Just a note, there will be a popup trying to get you to sign up for their newsletter, but you can just x out of it.) This date is just an estimate and you should check your local extended forecast to get a more accurate estimation.

Microclimates and topography can also play a role in frost, but we like to keep it simple here at Gingham Gardens.

Pansies with a light fall frost.

Top 12+ Annual Flowers That Can Tolerate A Fall Frost

Remember annual flowers are plants that only live one growing season. They grow from seed, produce flowers, and die within a year. Unlike perennials, annuals do not come back year after year. Although many annual flowers reseed themselves.

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It’s also important to note that these plants will be even more cold tolerant if planted in the ground when the soil is still warm, as opposed to above-ground container plantings.

Pot Marigolds (calendula officinalis) is an annual flower that is easy to grow from seed and is a prolific re-seeder. In fact, you may only need to plant them one time in your flower garden and you will enjoy their cheery blooms for years to come.

Calendula flowers in a rock garden.

Snapdragons (antirrhinum majus) are tough as nails plants. They are the first annual flowers that are planted in my gardens in spring and they usually last into late fall. If they are cared for and well-maintained, they are one of my gardens’ longest-blooming annual plants and take cold temperatures like a champ. In warm climates, snapdragon flowers are considered tender perennials.

Colorful snapdragons.

Pansies (viola tricolor) are tough in the cooler months, but they really don’t like hot summers even here in my zone 4 gardens. Although some gardeners are able to grow them all summer in shade to part shade areas. But that makes them the perfect flower for both spring and fall gardens.

Pansy flowers in a planter with other fall flowers around it.

Violas, a tiny version of pansies, grow well in partial shade and seem to be a bit tougher than their pansy cousins. They also reseed themselves and are known as Johnny Jump Ups because they pop up everywhere, but not to the point of being a nuisance. In mild climates, they are considered short-lived perennials.

Viola flowers

Sweet Alyssum (lobularia maritima) has a light, sweet fragrance that bees and I adore. They are low-growing, long-blooming annuals and a good choice for the borders of your garden beds.

Colorful flower garden

Bachelor’s Button a/k/a Cornflower (centaurea cyanus) are one of those plants that prefer the cool temperatures of spring or fall. Mine tend to not be as happy during the heat of summer, but they perk back up when the temperatures cool down. Remember there are both perennial and annual bachelor’s buttons. For this article, we are referring to the annual varieties.

Annual bachelor's button flowers.

Calibrachoa are those spiller plants that look like mini petunias. If you’ve ever done any flower container gardening, you’ve likely used calibrachoa in them. They are another plant that revitalizes when the temperatures drop. Many garden centers carry calibrachoa in late summer along with their fall flowers.

African Daisies (Osteospermum) are pretty daisy-like flowers that come in a variety of colors. I love them in my flower container gardens. Although their blooms wane when it gets really hot, they are one of the best cold tolerant annuals and will bloom until a hard frost kills them.

African Daisy flowers

Dianthus come in both perennial and annual plants. For the purposes of this article, we’re talking about annual dianthus. These hardy little buggers keep blooming even if they get snowed on.

Pink and white dianthus flowers.

Dusty Miller is a unique annual plant that can add a beautiful contrast to your flower beds and planters with its soft, silvery leaves. Here in my zone 4 gardens, I’ve even had dusty miller survive the entire winter.

Dusty Miller plant

Lobelia is kind of a wimpy plant when it comes to heat and sun. If you can keep it alive through the summer months, it will perk up when cooler weather comes and makes a great choice as a filler plant in your fall containers.

Lobelia flowers

Strawflowers (Xerochrysum bracteatum) are one of those underused annual flowers. These vibrant colored flowers are perfect for dried flower arrangements. Their papery, daisy-like blooms are nonstop bloomers through summer and well into fall. A frost or two won’t stop them.

Pink strawflowers

Many annual ornamental plants like ivy and grasses are cold-hardy and can survive a light frost. Learn how to reuse the same accent plants that adorn your summer containers in your fall containers.

Fall Annual Flowers That Can Survive a Frost

Let’s not forget the quintessential fall annual plants like chrysanthemums, asters, rudbeckia, ornamental kale, ornamental peppers and ornamental cabbage.

Fall planter with ornamental cabbage, mums, asters, rudbeckia and ornamental peppers.

Of course, mums are always an excellent choice for fall flower beds and fall containers. They come in a variety of colors and thrive in cool weather. There are different varieties of mums, either hardy perennials or cold-tolerant annuals. To learn more about fall potted mums, be sure to check out this link before you buy them.

Colorful fall mums in a garden center.

There are lots of other annual flowers that can survive a light autumn frost if they are protected in a microclimate (close to a building or close to a large boulder that radiates heat from the sun). Some of these include marigolds, geraniums, ageratum, celosia, nicotiana, verbena and zinnias. 

I encourage you to experiment and see which annual flowers survive a light frost in the fall in your gardens. Make notes in your garden journal so you can remember to plant those long-lasting annuals again next year. What are your favorite cool-season annuals? Did yours make this list? Please leave a comment below and share your favorites, as well as your gardening zone.

Need more ideas for your fall garden, check out these posts:

Ideas for DIY Outdoor Fall Flower Planters
Fall Porch Decor and Outdoor Decorating Ideas
Fall Flower Garden Inspiration
The Best Fall Perennial Flowers

Happy gardening,

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    1. Thank you, Georgia, for stopping by Gingham Gardens. I’m happy you’re enjoying our fall gardening tips and ideas. Stop back soon, Joanna

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