It’s easy to enjoy cheerful March-April color without worrying about frost damage. All you need is a flat or two of cold-hardy pansies. We really like the “Matrix” series, because of their extremely large blooms. They come in a huge selection of colors from the subtle “Matrix Pink Shades” to showier “Matrix Deep Orange” and “Matrix Purple”. New varieties like “Frizzle Sizzle Mix” and “Matrix Sunrise” are a bit different and distinctive, with brighter and showier colors that really stand out. These can be planted right now regardless of the weather. It’s hard to resist their velvety friendly faces. Pansies shrug off the cold, frost and snow.
Experienced growers grow their pansies in unheated greenhouses instead of forcing them in a warm greenhouse, so their pansies are tougher and more “hardened off” than hothouse-grown plants. These pansies won’t “shock” when you put them outside, and they have very healthy root systems accustomed to cold soil. Cold-grown pansies are definitely superior.
A little-known fact is that most pansy varieties can be perennial and come back every year. Pansies like cool weather, so plants you install this spring will bloom again in fall and again next year if you protect them from summer heat. Pansies bloom vigorously from April until June, and when it starts to get really hot we just pull a little mulch over them to protect them from the sun. Another approach is to plant annual flowers around the pansies. These plants will shield the pansies from the sun all summer, and when the frost kills them the pansies will burst into bloom for the late fall.
A popular variation on the pansy is the Viola, or “Johnny-jump-up”. We sell more of these every year and their dainty, pastel colored blooms are charming. Once established they will self-seed in cool, moist areas of your garden and you’ll have more every year. Like pansies, violas like cool weather or a shady location. They’ll fizzle out in early summer, by which time your annual bedding plants can take over. You’ll be surprised how they pop up next spring when you’ve forgotten all about them!
Pansies and violas are very easy to grow and easy to transplant. Work your soil with some peat moss before you plant, mix in a little Flower-Tone or other dry fertilizer with the soil, and lightly mulch the plants once they’re in the ground. Like most plants they will grow better in fluffy, well-drained soil than they will in hard clay.
A good way to rotate your planter pots and window boxes is to fill them with pansies at this time of year and then refill them with other annuals once danger of frost is past. The pansies can be transplanted from your containers into a shady spot in your garden; they’ll give you an “encore” of cheerful fall color. The photo shows Marjorie’s porch planters at their peak; she rotates warmer season annuals into the planters in early June.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.