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Growing Pansies

Growing Pansies

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This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

Say the name pansy and what comes to most peoples mind? Wimpy, weak and retiring. Never think this flower is “tender,” “weak” or “needing special care.” Pansies are the stellar performers of the spring gardens. Always plant them as small transplants in the fall.

They continue to grow and survive under snow even in the harshest of winters. As spring approaches, they are covered with abundant blooms that continue their show until they are removed to make way for the summer annuals. Few spring flowers rival these biennials in color or in length of bloom season.

Modern pansies are thought to come from Viola tricolor, a native of central Europe. Although pansies are biennials in cooler climates, in Utah we grow them as winter annuals because our summer heat destroys them. In the past 50 years, new pansy colors such as shades of pink, rose, and orange have become available. Modern pansy breeders emphasizes vigor, heat tolerance, and free flowering.

The pansy flower is a single blooms with five rounded petals. The array of colors is dazzling and includes red, purple, blue, bronze, pink, black, yellow, white, lavender, orange, apricot, and mahogany.

Pansies are divided into pure color flowers or multicolored flowers. Pure color varieties, called 'clear flowers' have a single color on the flower. These lack the familiar faces that most people associate with the blossoms.

Multicolored flowers, called 'blotched' or 'faced' often have dark blue/black centers but many blotched pansies have a different color blotch than the usual dark blue/black face. Other multicolored pansies have white or light colored edges or have petals of differing colors; most of these two or three-color pansies also have a dark face.

There are three categories of pansies, based on flower size: They are: Large 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inch diameter blooms, Medium 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inch diameter blooms and Multiflora 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inch diameter blooms.

There are more than 300 pansy cultivars available today and most cultivars come in series. A series has similar plant qualities such as plant size and heat tolerance. Members of a series have different flower colors and have different color patterns.

If the weather is warm and dry after planting, be certain pansies are watered as needed. Hand watering is sometimes necessary if sprinkler systems are turned off after frost. We often have an extended Indian Summer after frost and new plants need supplemental water at this time.

Add abundant organic matter to improve the soil. Where perennials are already in place, use a generous mulch layer around the plants to keep them from drying out. The mulch insulates the soil and prevents the plants from frost heaving as badly.

Snow does not hurt these hardy plants. In fact, lack of the insulating white blanket is far more likely to cause problems, because the plants are will dehydrate and die if there is no protective snow cover. Fall planting needs special attention to watering. These plants, like all other transplants, have very small root systems until they become established in the native soil.

If your pansies have been stressed from the winter weather, cover the beds later this fall with a spun polyester row cover material for the winter. This lightweight covering serves several purposes. It protects the plants from winter desiccation or drying out from the cold and the wind.

It acts a miniature greenhouse and accelerates plant growth so when they are removed in late winter the flowers are already in good bloom for the early spring visitors. Use medium weight for protection without excluding the light. The material is porous so it does not overheat and water goes right through to keep the plants moist.

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