Colorful pansies bloom through the winter: Betty Montgomery – Spartanburg Herald Journal

colorful-pansies-bloom-through-the-winter:-betty-montgomery-–-spartanburg-herald-journal

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Pansies (and violas) are a great addition to the winter garden. They are cheerful, come in a kaleidoscope of colors, and bloom through the winter months when little else is flowering. Pansies are the most planted fall and winter annual (or tender perennial) and it is for a good reason. They have either large or small blooms, come in an array of colors and bloom their heads off all winter long with a little care. You plant them in the fall and they bloom well into the spring, lighting up the landscape for many months. Sometimes they are looking so pretty that it’s hard for me to pull mine up to plant my summer annuals in the spring.   Pansies and violas are versatile plants and can be used in many different ways in your garden or landscape. They can be planted in a mix of colors or planted in a graceful drift of a single color. I have seen some of the most creative assortment of color combinations and I am always wanting to copy some of the combinations I see, planting them in my garden. They are the perfect plant for fall and winter color to cheer you on those cold, grey days of winter. Now, to make sure you understand this, pansies were actually derived from violas. Technically all pansies are violas but not all violas are pansies. Violas are often called Johnny jump-ups in the US, as they tend to self-seed and can spread throughout your garden on their own.  In very recent years, a lot of new varieties of violas are available at garden centers.    Like other annuals, pansies perform best if some organic matter has been mixed into the soil. Choose a location that drains well and in full sun for best results. Plant the plants slightly above the level of the soil, never deeper or they will wilt and rot. Water them well after planting to get out air pockets and to keep the tender little roots moist while they are getting established. It is also important to fertilize these little jewels.  They need nitrogen in the form of nitrate because this is absorbed better in the cool winter soil in this form.  Liquid fertilizers are usually formulated with a good balance of nutrients for pansies.   I like to plant my pansies from late September to mid-October which is a perfect time where I live. I find that if the roots are well established before it gets cold, pansies perform better through the colder winter months. It is also important to pinch out spent flower heads when they are finished blooming to ensure a succession of flowers.  When the spent flowers have finished blooming, they go to seed and this pulls energy from the plants that is needed to produce more flowers.   Now there are a plethora of choices when it comes to buying pansies or violas. Pansies are known for their larger flowers whereas violas display smaller flowers. Both are quite colorful and both are compact plants.   Both have many different colors which sometimes makes it over whelming. Some of the ones I see most often in garden centers are: Delta series which come in 32 different colors.   Majestic Giant series which has an extra-large flower with dark center blotch as well as solid colors like yellow, purple and white.   Crown series that comes in 9 different clear colors and flower early.    Winter flowering pansies are bred to be frost tolerant. If the temperatures get very low, the flowers might droop but once the temperatures rise, they will bounce right back. Pansies like full or partial sun, and they need cooler temperatures to thrive. The ideal planting site will get morning sun and if you live where it gets quite hot, avoid afternoon sun.   People ask if pansies will return and my answer is no. The good news is that some seeds from the previous year’s plants might sprout. Generally speaking, these will not be identical to the previous year's  plants if they were a hybrid. If you do want to grow them from seed, do not get impatient since they take time to mature. I really love to see what fabulous combinations people plant.  I have to say that some of my favorite combinations that I have seen are in the pretty little town of Aiken, S.C.  The city there does an amazing job of planting masses of them and the person who chooses the combinations has a wonderful eye for color groupings and arrangements.  Look around your town and enjoy these happy little flowers.    Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of “Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy,” and “A Four-Season Southern Garden.” She can be reached at [email protected]
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