In the Garden:
Ideal for planting among spring bulbs, small-flowered pansies provide dainty splashes of color throughout winter.
Incredible Shrinking Pansies
The most popular hardy annuals to plant in the fall, pansies are present in almost every garden. There are more than 300 varieties to choose from, and they are all good. But my favorites are the small-flowered pansies that are often called Johnny jump-ups. Unlike large-flowered pansies, these little guys keep blooming when the weather turns cold, and spread to form dainty mounds of color.
If you're not sure what kind of pansies you have, don't worry. The world of pansies is huge, but it's easily sorted into groups based on flower size. Large-flowered pansies produce big blooms, to 3 inches across. In our region, flower production of large-flowered pansies is strongest in spring.
Medium-flowered pansies feature 1- to 2-inch flowers, with sporadic flowering in winter. The blooms of small-flowered pansies, sometimes called mini-pansies, are less than 1 inch across, and they appear almost continuously from fall to spring. Small-flowered pansies carry lots of Johnny jump-up (Viola cornuta) genes, which improves their cold tolerance. I should also mention the trademarked varieties called Panolas. These are inter-species hybrids, too, with flowers in the medium-sized range. Most Panolas will bloom in winter, but not with the enthusiasm of smaller-flowered varieties.
Off With Dead Heads
With any pansy, one of the secrets of good fall-to-spring performance is the regular pinching off of dead flowers. Deadheading improves the plants' appearance and keeps them from wasting their energy producing seeds. Pinch off dead flowers once a week, and your plants should be happy.
It's also best to work a standard ration of organic or timed-release fertilizer into the soil before you plant pansies. After that, wait until spring to feed your pansies a second time. In spring, use a liquid fertilizer or some other plant food that releases its nutrients right away. Pansies start growing and blooming while soil temperatures are still in the 40s, which often suppresses the availability of nutrients from other types of fertilizer.
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