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Pansies Are Tops For Winter Color
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Pansies are no wimps, and neither are the people who plant them generously in their landscapes.
The choices of pansies have become staggering. One major seed supplier alone lists 180 varieties and various mixtures. The reason is plain and simple: The pansy sits on the throne as the most popular fall and winter flower.
You macho types probably figured the word pansy meant the flowers were kind of wimpy. Yet, these beautiful flowers are tough enough to survive most Mississippi winters.
Those of you who "parle vouz fransaise" a little may know that "pansy," as in the flower, originates from the French word "pensees," for thoughts or remembrances.
The pansy is found in the Viola family originally cultivated in Greece in the 4th century B.C. The plant we now call the pansy began in England.
In the early 1800s, an inquisitive Lord Gambier and his gardener, William Thompson, began crossing various Viola species.
History credits Thompson with the discovery of a cross that began the new species in 1839 named Medora. He found a bloom with huge blocks or blotches of color on the lower petals called the face. Medora and its progeny became popular with gardeners and breeders throughout Europe.
Today, pansies fall into one of three categories: large -- 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches, medium -- 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches and multiflora - - 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches.
Two series that have really sparked my interest are Bingo and Rally. Both made their appearance in 1994 and are gaining in popularity.
Bingos have large flowers with dark blotches borne on short stalks, or peduncles. Their flower faces straight up giving a stronger impact of color as passersby gaze at the bed. The Rally series does much the same but are smaller 2-inch flowers.
Pansies with dark blotches have long been a personal favorite, but the Crystal Bowl series and its larger cousin called the Crown series are beginning to win me over. These are flowers without blotches and are mostly pure in color. These are great for mass planting.
The Crystal Bowl plants are dwarf with small deep green leaves and numerous branches. The Crown series has larger 3-inch clear flowers and are also dwarf or compact.
There are numerous series, some that have been around a long time like Majestic Giants, that have not lost their popularity and are equally good performers.
As with almost any other flower, the key to success lies in bed preparation. Pansies like well-drained beds with ample amounts of organic matter added.
Nurseries will soon have transplants available in various sizes ranging from jumbo six packs to those grown in a four- or six- inch container. Larger plants in bloom give you the most immediate impact as well as a larger root system for the onset of winter. Be sure to mulch after planting.
Remove old blooms for the best flower production. Our grandparents were adamant about fertilizing with bone meal, and that's OK. However, pansies prefer a complete and balanced water- soluble fertilizer.
Your happiness with pansies may hinge on how aggressively you use them in the landscape. Massing the beds with one color gives the most dramatic impact. Massing the bed, even if a mixture is used, is still far better than spot planting.
Spring bulbs make an excellent combination with pansies. When the bulbs emerge in the spring with the large pansy plants, the bed is a sight to behold.