Diggin’ In: Hardy pansies are a bright spot in fall, winter and spring

October 26, 2015

You know autumn is here when trays of pansies, along with pumpkins and gourds, appear in garden centers.

Perfect plants for three-season color, pansies are ideally planted when the weather is cool but the sun and soil are still warm enough to promote root growth and flower development.

Once established, pansies flower now through May with some TLC, including regular fertilizations and light pruning when the plants get straggly. In garden beds, they look best when planted in masses that provide eye-catching, curb-appeal color. They also work well in pots and planters for porches and patios.

"I love pansies," says Eric Bailey of Landscapes by Eric Bailey —

"They are the one cheery plant for color in winter. My favorite color combination is Delta pure yellow and Delta true blue — these complement each other very nicely. However, I love blue and white or red and white as other combinations."

Planting pansies is easy when you follow some sage advice on getting the plants off to a good start.

"When you plant them, pinch off all pansies at the base of the stem one time," says Tish Llaneza of Countryside Gardens —

"You want the plant to get established first. Put that energy into the roots and plant. A fat, well-rooted plant will make it through the season much easier."

When planting, use a planter started fertilizer such as Bio-Tone, adds Llaneza. Then, follow up with regular feedings of Flower Tone for season-long flower production. Both organic "tone" products are by Espoma –

Pansies are also tough annuals that that survive even the harshest environments, according to Daniel Van Dyke, landscape installation manager at McDonald Garden Center –

"With just a little TLC, you can keep a tight form and keep them blooming all season long," Van Dyke says.

"Pansies tend to get a bit leggy at times. If this occurs, simply pinch them back. Depending on how large they have gotten, you may even take them back to half of their existing size. This will stimulate new growth, resulting in a tighter plant. You may lose a few blooms right off the bat, but in the long run it will make for an attractive plant.

"Also, when you fertilize, pay attention to the nitrogen (the first number listed on a fertilizer), and the phosphorus (the middle number listed). Those are the components of a fertilizer that promotes leaf growth and flowering. We recommend Greenleaf fertilizer specifically formulated for Hampton Roads. It’s what we use on our own plants."

For gardeners who battle hungry deer, pansies may tempt them.

"If you want to give up on pansies and have a plant that deer do not eat, try Dianthus Telstar Mix," says Bailey.

"We planted many last year, and even in a terrible winter they pulled through perfectly."

On the positive side, pansies benefit bees during winter.

"Honey bees do work pansies and violas during cool weather, but they are not a major source of nectar or pollen," says Pam Fisher, president Virginia State Beekeepers Association —

"There simply aren’t enough pansies to support a hive of bees, which requires acres of plants to sustain it. Asters and goldenrod — think native plants in huge numbers — are far more important, but their flowers do not survive a hard frost like pansies.

"Honey bees do not hibernate; they survive on their stored honey, which is why they make it. But they do augment the honey with nectar and pollen from anything in bloom during the winter. You can find bees bringing in pollen year-round in our area, even in the winter. Honey bees fly when the temperatures are above 50-degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes pansies are the only thing out there blooming, so you’ll see honey bees visiting them on warm winter days."

If you want to plant pansies for bees, Fisher encourages you to put in blue, white or yellow pansies and any that are fragrant.

"My experience is the yellow-flowering varieties are the most fragrant in hybrid pansies," she says.



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