Annuals · Container Gardening

It’s the Year of the Pansy!

Pansy ‘Antique Heirloom Shades’ boasts unique vintage colors.

It is no wonder the National Garden Bureau named 2017 the Year of the Pansy. Considered a weed before the 19th century, the pansy is now the quintessential flower of the season. Planted in containers, window boxes or the garden, they announce the arrival of spring in your landscape.

Pansy ‘Frizzle Sizzle Blue’ is showing off a face, whiskers and ruffled edges.

Many favor pansies with dark blotches in their centers, called faces, but there are others stroked with whiskers, and more sporting ruffled edges. For those who prefer clear, unblemished color, pansies are available like that, too – in pastel and vivid shades.

Whether solid-colored, painted with faces or whiskers, or sporting ruffled or smooth edges, pansies are readily available in just about all the colors of the rainbow.

Many varieties offer a sweet scent, strongest early in the morning and at dusk. Reportedly, yellow and blue pansies boast the most powerful perfume.

Pansies don’t mind a surprise spring snow.

Pansies are compact, short-lived perennials in warmer climates but here, they are treasured as cool-season annuals that scoff at light frosts and enchant gardeners with early spring blooms. They do, however, eventually surrender to summer heat and should be removed from the garden and replaced with heat lovers in containers.

Start pansies from seed about eight weeks before they are to be transplanted outside. Plant seeds in a light soilless potting mix about 1/8 inch deep. Use a mister to moisten the soil and cover them with plastic wrap to raise the humidity. Place a cover over them to provide the darkness they require for germination. Check every few days to make sure the soil stays moist and mist if necessary.

Germination should occur in a couple of weeks. When seedlings emerge, remove the cover and move them to a cool room under lights. Fluorescent lights work just fine. As seedlings grow, begin to feed with diluted water-soluble fertilizer.

Before planting them outside, prepare them by gradually introducing them to weather outdoors.

When purchasing pansies at your local garden center, choose compact plants with dark green foliage, lots of flower buds, and just a few open blooms. Leave leggy plants on the benches unless you don’t mind cutting them back and waiting a couple weeks for them to regrow.

Plant them at least six inches apart in well-drained soil amended with organic matter. A spot in morning sun and afternoon shade is best to keep them blooming as long as possible. Plant them alongside perennials in your partly shaded garden. They are charming companions for coral bells, ferns, hellebores and columbines. Pansies are also lovely skirting tulips and daffodils.

Pansy ‘Whiskers Blue’ is a real cutie!

Mulching will help keep the soil moist and their roots cooler. Water pansies regularly, and feed them with an organic, all-purpose fertilizer. They will continue to flower well into June in an average summer as long as spent flowers are removed on a regular basis. If plants grow tall and leggy, cut them back by half to rejuvenate them.

Don’t forget to cut some flowers to add to salads. Only eat flowers from plants that you have grown and have not sprayed with pesticides.

If you didn’t start some from seed, head out to your favorite local garden center and pick up some pansies to celebrate the Year of the Pansy. Garden with me!

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