If you are looking for an outdoor blooming plant that can take the cold weather and come back for more, pansies are your best bet. Pansies are quite resilient and will persist even after being buried for a couple of days in ice or snow. In the southern US and warmer coastal areas, mid to late fall (now) is the perfect time to plant pansies. If you live in the north where the winters are harsh and the spring nights remain crisp, pansies are best planted in the spring to early summer. They will continue to do well until the mid-summer heat begins to wilt them.
For the purpose of this article and to tie in with the current fall season, I'll refer to planting pansies in the south and coastal areas.
My first encounter with pansies was actually as a small child through a paint-by-number set. I recall there were many paint colors that came with the pansy set, as opposed to the daisy and rose sets, and of course, the extra containers of paint was the main main reason, at 6 years old, I chose the pansies. It was a good experience because I learned early on that pansies can be found in a variety of colors and that they had "faces", otherwise known as blotches.
Indeed, pansies can be found in multiple shades and colors, from deep purples to light blues, reds to pinks, burnt oranges to pale yellows, among other hues. Most pansies we identify with have blotches, but some do not. Some pansies are considered "penciled", having lines radiating from their centers, while others are "clear" or blotchless.
Blotched or Faced Pansy
Blotchless or Clear Pansy
Pansies are of the viola genus. They are believed to have been hybridized from two other blooming plants of that particular genus - the perennial violet, or a variation thereof, and the johnny-jump-up (which looks like a tiny bi-colored penciled pansy and are often referred to as violas or violettas). In fact, some folks believe penciled and clear pansies should be classified as violas - separate from the pansy label. In researching the history and hybridization of the pansy, I must confess there are several schools of thought regarding what exactly classifies true pansies: blotch and/or blotchless, flower size, and/or number of petals pointing downward vs upward. There is also concern among some that viola can be used interchangeably as both a common name and a genus name. Going back to the previous paragraph, most commercial nurseries, when referring to pansies, are speaking of the larger flowering types that are used predominately as annual bedding plants - whether they are blotched, penciled or clear.
Putting genetics and nomenclature aside, pansies are very well adapted to the southern winters of the US and are a popular, if not the most popular, blooming plant in southern landscapes from October through March. I have found pansies do best if planted in part to full sun, two or three weeks prior to the expected first hard frost - usually in early to mid October in North Texas. Planting them a few weeks prior to the first frost (as best you can guess) allows time for the roots to establish themselves and allows the plants to be better able to withstand the oncoming cold. As mentioned earlier, pansies will withstand brief duration ice and/or snow storms. While they may look droopy and wilted for a day or two after the storm, most pansies will perk up quickly once the sun warms them a tad. Overall, pansies enjoy cooler temps and moist, but not wet, soil. If you are adorning hanging baskets with pansies this fall, be sure to give them an extra helping of mulch to aid with retaining moisture as they do not do well at all in consistently dry conditions. By adding a scoop of blood and/or bone meal to the soil when planting pansies, you will assist in supplementing needed nitrogen and phosphorus to your soil composition respectively.
And, speaking of blood and bone meal, these soil amendments are exactly what their names state they are - dried blood and ground bone particles - byproducts of our meat industry. It has been found that pansies and violets respond better to these rich, slow releasing, organic fertilizers. And since rabbits love to munch on pansies, the addition of blood and bone meal to the soil appears to deter them. (The flowers are edible and palatable to humans, too, by the way.) One big caveat, however - while the blood and bone deters little rabbits, it acts like a magnet to big dogs! So . . . if your pansies are planted in common or accessible areas, you have your choice of losing a few nibbles to rabbits or potentially having to replant your beds due to errant dogs digging them up looking for remnants to the blood and bone meal!
Outside of the four-legged pests, the only other pests you may have trouble with regarding your pansies are snails and slugs - however in the cooler seasons they aren't quite as numerous so you shouldn't lose too many petals to them. If you find you have an issue with them, there are quite a few organic or otherwise safe solutions on the market that specifically target them.
A plot of smiling faces!
On to a more positive note - a bonus to their beautiful colors is that en masse, pansies produce a sweet, light fragrance. When there isn't much blooming outdoors, it is nice to come across a field of flowers that not only enhances our view, but our sense of smell as well!
In conclusion, whether you are wanting to produce a warm, autumn feel by planting pansies in yellows, oranges and maroons around your fall pumpkins or a cool, crisp feel by planting a palate of blues, whites and purples among the fading grass or ornamental cabbages, you are sure to benefit from the persistence of pansies, and the rare beauty of that trait.
Until next time,
This post is dedicated to Mike's recently departed grandmother of 100 years, Ms. Viola Weseman. As her namesake suggests - her strength, beauty, good nature and love of family still persists . . .
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