Meridian Star

October 21, 2012

Winter-flowering pansies add great landscape color

By Dr. Gary Bachman
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — In my last column, I suggested gardeners shouldn’t jump the gun and pull out summer annuals that still look good. But if you do have an open spot in your landscape, now is a good time to consider adding some cool-season color.

    The pansy is one bedding plant that just can’t be beat in cool-season landscapes. As a group, pansies are great for outstanding cool-weather performance. The pansy series that has taken the landscape by storm is the Matrix. These pansies have quickly become one of the industry’s leading cool-season bedding plants.

    Matrix pansies come in a wide range of colors. Many have the traditional pansy blotch, which is the dark coloration of the lower flower petals. Pansies with this look are sometimes known as being “faced.”

    A really attractive group of Matrix flowers has clear colors. This means these flowers don’t have a blotch and are a flash of pure color. A nice feature of the clear-colored flowers is that the throat of each flower has a small, yellow eye.

    Another series of must-have pansies is the Delta Fire. These oldies but goodies feature brilliant yellow flowers with blotches that range from burgundy to rusty red and orange. These warm colors are unusual for pansies.

    Both the Matrix and Delta Fire pansies have great growth characteristics. The plants will grow up to 8 inches tall and 10 inches wide. When mass planted, these pansies can be an impressive sight in the landscape.

    Perhaps the most important characteristic of these sturdy plants is their short stems. This trait is good because the flowers are large and held high above the foliage. The slightest breeze causes the colorful flowers to flutter. And since the plants freely branch, there are even more flowers to enjoy.

    When planting pansies in the landscape, prepare the soil as you would for summer-flowering annuals. Amend the soil with organic matter, and add a couple pounds of a good, controlled-release fertilizer. This treatment maintains nutrition for the extended garden performance that pansies are known for. Keep the planting beds evenly moist, even in the cold temperatures of winter.

    Pansies may be the perfect winter-flowering annual. The plants can freeze solid and thaw with little damage. Their leaves will be tinged purple in response to the cold, and current flowering will slow down or stop completely. But once it warms up a little, the flowering revs up again.

    The short, sturdy stems resist stretching, which means the plants will look good long after the days begin warming up in the spring.

    Matrix and Delta Fire pansies will give you nonstop color to get you through the winter months. So buy some this weekend and start enjoying the color and life they bring to fall and winter gardens.

    • Dr. Gary Bachman is an assistant Extension research professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.