Take The Chill Out of Early Spring – Plant Pansies!
One of the many gifts of spring are the early flowering plants such as tulips, daffodils and crocus. Another one of those tough beautiful bloomers is the cold tolerant annual pansy. Now when I say cold tolerant that does not mean we can put them out on the porch in freezing weather but they can stand very light frosts and soil temps of 7-18 degrees C. This cold tolerance makes them ideal for very early spring and fall containers.
Another bonus is that the whole flower is edible. They have a sweet, spicy, and mild lettuce taste, making them a beautiful garnish for salads and as candied decorations for desserts.
Pansies can be used in hanging baskets, mixed planters, window boxes and in flower beds. They like a bright to partly shady location and to be planted in a slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0-6.2).
To say that pansies come in a wide range of colors is an understatement. Pansies have been extensively hybridized and the result is many “series” or groups of pansy plants that share the same traits and characteristics such as size and flower pattern no matter the color.
Depending on the series (or group) of pansies the colors can be vibrant or muted and pale with different central whisker patterns, blotches or solid in color as well. The colors are shades of white, yellow, purple, blue, orange, red and even near black and variations of all the above. Some have ruffled flower petals, flat petals, and semi-double flowers.
The Bingo Series has very large flowers that come in fourteen colors. The Joker Series has very pronounced faces. The Bolero Series has ruffled, large, semi-double flowers.
Other series of pansies include Delta, Universal, Princess, Cool Wave (semi-trailing) and Wonderfall (trailing).
A mature pansy plant will range in size from 10-20 cm. in height by 15-20 cm. in spread. Sizes will be noted on the container tag. Look for bushy, stocky plants with dark green leaves.
Pansies are the February birth flower. They represent love and admiration.
Some people like to start their pansies from seed. Most pansy seeds are F1 hybrids and if you let them go to seed the new plants will not resemble the parents. This is not always a bad thing if you are a versatile type of gardener. You will likely get flowers that have reverted to one of the parents of the hybrid.
Pansy seed requires dark to germinate. Stratifying the seeds for 2 weeks helps improve germination. Once the new seedlings have two sets of true leaves you can transplant them to small pots. Put them in a bright location – never direct sun. Seedlings will need two weeks to harden off before planting outdoors.
I prefer buying my pansies in packs or planters at Floral Acres. They have an awesome range of varieties to choose from – most in full bloom when they hit the sales floor in early spring. If the days are still a bit chilly after you buy, harden them off outside on a warm day and bring them in at night for a week or two.
When planting outside remember that pansies are heavy feeders. This is especially true for pansies in planters, hanging baskets and window boxes. Regular watering and regular fertilizing with an all-purpose flowering plant fertilizer will keep them blooming until the summer heat hits. Deadheading will encourage more blooms. Make sure to use containers that have drainage holes.
Pansies do not bloom all season.
Once the warm summer months are here the stems will “stretch” or elongate and fall over. They may start to set seed. This is the time to shear them back by approximately half which will encourage new growth and more blooms. This is not always a remedy to stretching. If the summer is intensely hot for a long period of time, they may not bounce back at all. So far breeding for heat tolerant pansies has not been successful.
The cool fall weather usually sees a re-emergence of pansies in the garden centers. You will find them displayed with other fall bloomers such as sunflowers, chrysanthemums, flowering cabbage, kale and dusty miller.
Pansy Pests Include:
Slugs and sometimes aphids.
While the flowers of a pansy plant are edible, please note that the seeds are mildly toxic to humans and pets. Do not eat flowers that have been subject to pesticide spraying.
Pansy flowers contain salicylic acid, which is the main ingredient in aspirin. They also contain compounds called saponins that have expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Panolas are a cross between violas and pansies. They are also cold hardy.