Gardeners have planted more annual flowers this year than ever before. We had outstanding color all summer, and cooler weather doesn’t mean the color needs to end. There are a wide range of winter annuals to choose from, but the star in the winter garden has always been pansies.
Pansies, Viola X Wittrockiana, come in a variety of sizes, colors and types. They come in blue, red, yellow, white, orange, pink and purple. There is even a black variety. There are solid colors without faces, bi-colors with contrasting faces and blended colors offering a mix of colors in each bloom. Intense breeding has developed flowers that can get as large as 4.5 inches across on lovely green foliage. It is hard to believe that these large, brightly colored flowers are descendants of the quiet, diminutive woodland violets.
Pansy flowers have a velvety texture and bloom over a long period of time. Pansies thrive in cool weather and will bloom from now until next summer’s hot weather causes them to decline. Plant them in a well-drained location with moderately rich soil. They will grow in full sun to partial shade. Those in full sun will fade away sooner in the summer, but by then you have plenty of other plants to replace them with.
People who move here from farther north, are amazed to see pansies being planted this late in the season. Arkansas is about as far north as pansies can be planted as a winter annual. Gardeners up north plant pansies for an early spring bedding plant. In our winter gardens, when temperatures dip below freezing, they will freeze solid, thaw out when the sunlight hits them and continue to bloom all winter. When so much of the garden is dormant and somewhat homely, pansies give a much needed shot in the arm of cheerful color.
When it comes to pansy varieties, the list continues to grow each year. For the largest flowering pansies, look for Majestic Giants or Colossus. The Delta series features mid-size flowers in a large range of colors; these bounce back quickly if we have cold weather. The Matrix series has both blotched and clear varieties and has sturdy stems. The flowers, available in many colors, are smaller, but there are lots of them — these plants are very floriferous. A popular trailing series of pansies is the Cool Wave series, which spreads more readily than most pansies. The flowers are a bit smaller, but the trailing habit helps them fill a bed, and they bloom nonstop. If you are looking for a unique color palette, consider the Imperial Antiques with soft, blended colors. Visit your local nursery and see what they have.
Pansies can be planted in a mix of colors, or for a really dazzling display, in a single color. Plant the individual flowers 4 to 6 inches apart. They make a great companion planting for spring flowering bulbs. Simply dig up the bed, plant bulbs first, cover with soil, then plant pansies on top. The spring bulbs will come up right through the pansy plantings for even more color in the spring.
Pansies can be planted from late September through early December. When planting late in the season, choose strong, healthy plants with blooms or at least buds on them. If you plant young, small plants during the later planting time, you may wait until spring for good flowering.
Pansies also make ideal container plantings. If you live in an apartment or condominium, don’t think that you are excluded from planting pansies. Plant a container for your deck, patio or front porch. Regular watering will need to be included in their care — even when it is cold. Watering is especially important prior to a heavy freeze. They don’t need to be saturated, but they do need to be moist.
Fertilize pansies regularly all season. Fertilize at planting and during any warm spell throughout the winter.
Very few pests attack pansies, with the main culprits being rabbits and occasionally squirrels and deer. Use whatever resources you have to deter them, although a light scattering of blood meal has been known to do the trick for rabbits.
A gift of pansies is supposed to mean “You occupy my thoughts” since pansy comes from the French pensée, meaning a thought, and heart’s ease. Myth has it that the pansy was originally white but colored purple by Cupid.
Pansies are not just pretty, they’re edible. They are used in salads and can be crystallized and used as cake decorations. If you decide to nibble on your pansies, make sure before doing so that they have not been sprayed with pesticides.