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New pansies show up at garden centers
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Judging from those attending this year's Fall Flower and Garden Fest, pansy planting season is here, and there are some terrific new selections to pick from.
I enjoyed watching people shop at the festival in Crystal Springs. In one area, tropicals were selling like there was no tomorrow, and in another area it was pansies and snapdragons. It was good to see people paying attention to the landscape again.
Two new pansies that were very popular were the Ultima Radiance Blue and the Matrix series. I have always loved the Ultimas because of their unique color combinations. You may remember the All-America Selections Ultima Morpho from a couple of years ago. The Ultima Radiance Blue is richly colored with blue-cream and yellow in an unusual pattern. If you plant some of these, I promise they will catch the eye of visitors to your home.
The Matrix series made its debut this year. It is a large-flowered pansy with 12 colors and four mixes. They come with blotches and clear-faced, too. With this many varieties, you have to know there is a color that will suit your palette.
These two I have mentioned are just a few of the new selections available. There are so many at your local garden center that it is easy to see why pansies (and their cousins, the violas) are the premier cool-season flowers.
No matter what pansy you choose, bed preparation is crucial. The ground stays wet many winters, almost never drying out. For this reason, you must work organic matter into the soil to allow maximum aeration and drainage.
In trials a couple of years ago at the Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, you could stand several feet away from a plot and pick out where peat had been used as the source for organic matter. It simply allowed the flowers to perform better. In places where no organic matter had been incorporated, the flowers literally drowned. So do a good job in bed preparation before you go shopping.
When planting pansies and violas, be aggressive and mass-plant them in large quantities. As part of my lecture, when I show a photo of a beautiful garden loaded with flowers, I tell them you can't get this look from a jumbo six-pack.
When planting, interplant with spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils. Use smaller jonquils with violas, or Johnny Jump-Ups and larger daffodils like King Alfred with the new super-sized pansies.
As you shop, I urge you to keep your eyes open for Purple Rain. This variety is still so popular that demand usually outpaces supply. Purple Rain is a mounding, cascading pansy that is perfect as a border plant in the landscape. It also is ideally suited to baskets, planters and window boxes.
The coloring -- dark-purple with hints of blue in the center -- makes Purple Rain an attractive choice for gardeners. In beds I have seen, this pansy reaches heights of 12 to 18 inches without a leggy look. They almost look like a small pansy hedge.
No matter which pansy you choose or whether you plan to use them in the landscape, porch, patio or deck, combine them with other flowers like snapdragons, Dianthus, or flowering kale and cabbage. The yellow, orange and apricot colors are terrific with Red Giant mustard.
Get out a notepad and add up the number of days of cool-season color you will have if you plant this weekend and pull them in late April. I'll let you do the math, but you will see that it adds up to one of the best plant-buys you can make.