Posted by Brent Wilson on 8/27/2016 to Flower Gardening
The first time most beginning gardeners hear of pansies they can't believe you can plant them in the fall season and they'll bloom all the way through winter and into spring. People can't understand how a flowering annual plant that looks as tender as a pansy can withstand the cold.
Pansies are winter wonders. In regions where winters are colder, pansies will not only survive the winter but bloom through it as well! A severe cold snap might wither individual blooms however, during warmer days of winter, the plants will continue to produce buds and flowers.
Pansies are very easy to grow when planted right and in the right spot.
Pansies like all the sun you can give them, though will tolerate a light amount of shade. Planting under deciduous shade trees is okay as long as sunlight shines through after the leaves have fallen in fall.
Whether growing in the ground or in pots, pansies grow best in a well-drained, moist, loamy soil. Constantly soggy soil will weaken and even kill plants. When planting in the ground it is best to plant them in well-prepared "mounded beds" or "raised beds" that are 6 to 10 inches above the existing grade. This will not only assure good drainage but will also improve the visibility of the color display.
Pansies are acid-loving plants that prefer a soil pH in the range of 5.4 to 5.8. A pH above 5.8 can result in boron and iron deficiencies; therefore, avoid liming pansy beds out of habit, unless a soil test indicates a need for lime. Mixing in a good aged compost can help to create more acid soil conditions. When in doubt about soil pH, you can always test the soil with a pH testing probe.
Position raised pansy beds as focal points throughout your landscape. Entryways are a great place to start, such as at either side of the entry to your driveway, walkways, or front door of your home. Containers, pots and hanging baskets can be placed on sunny decks, patios, porches and any other outdoor living areas or garden beds.
Pansies come in a wide array of flower colors. You can plant all the same color or mix things up using various color combinations. I usually stick to three colors but more can be used. When using three colors you will select colors that are spaced equidistant on the color wheel - the points of an equilateral triangle, such as yellow, blue, and red. Too, you can combine pansies with other cool season flowers and ornamental plants for additional texture and color. More on companions below.
Colors tend to come in two different categories: hot colors and cool colors.
Hot colors, such as red, orange and yellow express action and excitement. Place hot colors by doors, walkways and in far corners of the garden to draw attention to spots that might otherwise be overlooked. Cool colors, such as blue, pink and purple tend to calm and provide tranquility. They are great to use in spaces where you want to relax.
Color can also be used to visually change distance perspective. Warm colors and light tints, such as red, orange, yellow and white, advance an object or area toward the observer. These colors and tints placed near the foundation of a house would make the house appear closer to the street. Cool colors and deep shades like blue, green and black recede and can be used to make the house appear farther from the street.
When choosing colors, one very helpful tool is the color wheel. A color wheel is a diagrammatic way of showing relationships between colors. Colors on the right side of the wheel are warm. Colors on the left side are cool. Colors adjacent to one another are analogous. Opposite colors are complementary.
The first way of combining color is utilizing analogous colors. Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel and mix together easily. Some examples of analogous colors are yellow-orange, orange-red, yellow-orange-red, violet-red, blue-green, and blue-violet.
Next is complimentary colors. Using these can create more drama in the garden. To design with complimentary colors, simply look at the color wheel and choose the colors that are opposite of each other. Complimentary colors create a lot of contrast and cause both colors to pop. When designing with complimentary colors keep in mind that bright shades of any color look better with bright shades of a complimentary color, and the same for light shades. Also keep in mind that you'll want the color of the flowers to compliment the container.
In addition to the colors on the simple color wheel, there are a number of neutral colors including white, black, grey, silver and shades of brown. Neutral colors can be used with any color scheme to add dimension.
Pansy Companion Plants
Yes!...there are other plants that will thrive in the outdoor landscape during the winter months...and many of these are perfect for combining in beds or pots with pansies.
Perhaps the most popular pansy companions are the many selections of flowering cabbage and kales. These "flowering" vegetable plants make colorful accents or centerpieces in combination beds or container plantings with pansies.
There are several ornamental grasses that provide a unique texture and attractive, vertical accent in pansy plantings. I really like several varieties of the evergreen Juncus (Rush grasses) for use as centerpieces in beds or containers. The lower growing Sweet Flag (Acorus) are very nice as well.
Evergreen conifers, such as Emerald Green Arborvitae, Dwarf Alberta Spruce, and Cypresses, make excellent centerpieces or backdrops for pansy plantings in flowerbeds or container gardens. These evergreen plants also make perfect little Christmas trees that can be lighted during the season and then removed from the container or bed and planted elsewhere as a permanent fixture in the landscape.
Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths and other spring-flowering bulbs can be planted at proper depths beneath pansies in garden beds or container plantings. In the spring, foliage and flowers from these bulb plants will rise above or be nestled among your pansy flowers. Creative gardeners can really come up with some neat combinations of textures and color using bulbs.
Other Cool Season Flowering Plants
Other cool season flowering annual and perennial plants, such as Violas (which are dwarf pansies), Snapdragons, Dianthus, Nemesia, and Diascia provide a different texture and flower-look in pansy combination plantings.
Other Evergreen Plants
How you prepare a raised flower bed will depend on the soil type. In general, you want your soil mixture in a raised bed to contain at least 50% potting mix and/or a good potting soil thoroughly mixed in with 50% native soil. The more potting media the better, and this is the same for almost all other annuals. I usually go with more potting media than native soil, but that's because I garden in Georgia red clay soil.
When planting in flower beds, I usually space pansy plants 4 to 6 inches apart. Some of the new trailing varieties can be planted 10 to 12 inches apart.
Note: To determine how many plants it will take to fill a flower bed you'll first need to determine total square feet of the planting bed. See How To Measure for Square Feet. Then you can can plug in the total square feet and the distance you will space plants in the flower bed into this Plant Calculator to determine how many plants it will take to fill your flowerbed.
Planting Pansies in Containers
Pansies can also be planted in any type of container: planters, pots, window boxes, hanging baskets etc.. When planting in containers, make sure to use a light professional potting mix. Avoid using the dollar-a-bag potting soil sold at the box stores that won't hold water evenly, doing more harm than good to your pansies. Make sure that your container has a drainage hole(s) at the bottom to provide adequate drainage.
When planting in containers, I usually space pansy plants 2 to 3 inches apart. Some of the new trailing varieties can be spaced 6 inches or so apart in containers.
Caring for Pansies
Pansies are very easy to grow when cared for properly. Here's the lowdown on pansy care...
Pansies are a low nutrient plant meaning they do not require much fertilizer. At planting time, feed your newly planted pansies with a flower food containing the "nitrate" form of nitrogen. When shopping for fertilizer, just look on the package to make sure it is nitrate nitrogen. Mixing the fertilizer into the soil before setting out the plants is recommended. Depending on the amount of rain that comes during winter, and whether or not you used a slow- or quick-release fertilizer, your pansies might require another feeding or two during the season. I usually feed my pansies once at planting time and again in late winter. Alternatively, you may use a natural or organic fertilizer every 4 to 6 weeks to promote health and increased blooming.
Pansies do not require pruning, however occasional deadheading (removing spent flowers and stems) helps to increase flowering and keeps the plants tidy. If you purchase pansy plants that have "stretched" or are leggy in their pots, cut them halfway back at planting time to promote denser branching. Just make sure there are some leaves remaining on the stem.
Pansies do not like constantly soggy soil, so water them only when necessary. Allow the soil to dry out somewhat before providing water. Always water in the morning. As with most other plants, watering in the late evening or at night can lead to fungal development.
Pest and Disease Problems
There aren't many if any insects around during the winter so, needless to say, pansies don't have any serious insect problems. If you plant your pansies in well-drained soil, and don't over-water, diseases won't be a problem. If you see that an individual pansy plant has developed stem rot, identified by a black ring or section of the stem, remove and discard it to stop the spread of the disease.
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