The flower that isn’t a pansy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 26, 2002

If you want some winter cheer, now is the time for planting pansies in our area. Finally, the temperatures have finally begun to cool down. If there is one condition that pansies do not tolerate well, is hot weather.

In areas like ours where the minimum winter temperature usually only drops to 20 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, pansies can be grown as a winter plant. Planted in the fall, they can survive the freezes and snowfalls of our southern winter quite well. So, as the pansy names suggests – that being fragile, this flower is certainly not, it is quite tough.

Pansies are one of the most widely known and best loved of all cultivated flowers.

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The choice of colors and markings on pansies is extraordinary. They can be found in almost any color, in shades from pale and soft to bright and vivid. For gardeners who prefer blue flowers, the pansy is without peer from pale sky blue to deep royal blue and purples.

New varieties are constantly being developed. Check your local nursery for the latest and largest of the new pansy cultivars.

The pansy is a hybrid plant originally developed in Europe.

Although technically a perennial, a plant that returns every year, it only grows well from seed the first year. Subsequent plant health and flowering usually deteriorates quickly after that. For this reason, they are usually grown as annuals or biennials.

Pansies generally grow about 8 inches tall with delicate 2- to 3-inch flowers of five overlapping petals in every color and marking imaginable.

Because they are low growing plants, they make excellent borders and edging which are filled with brilliant color.

They also are a great choice for container planting, particularly Pansies make a delightful small bouquet of cut flowers.

Pansies prefer a loose, moisture-retentive soil dug deeply and enriched with compost. They thrive in full sun but can take some partial shade. Deep shade is not recommended, and they will not flower as prolifically if they are planted there.

A steady supply of water is required so they need to be watered regularly when it does not rain.

Adding a standard, all-purpose liquid fertilizer to the water about once a month will help increase the health of the plant and flowering rate. Another way to ensure a new profusion of blooms is to frequently pinch spent blooms on the plant, thereby preventing the plant from going to seed and ending the blooming cycle.

These flowers are generally problem free. However, slugs who seem to love pansies. Use your proven slug deterrent, or call your local extension agent for information about pest control.

D. Elizabeth Nelson is a Master Gardner in Suffolk and a regular columnist for the Suffolk News-Herald.