This tough winter bedding plant may have a serious identity issue, but its very flamboyance is what drives its demand. Pansies are the forgotten late season annual, and among the few plants capable of tolerating icy late winter temperatures. In truth, these annuals flawlessly liven up brown winter landscapes with minimal maintenance.
Pansies are splendid splashes of color and can be planted in both early Spring and Fall. The over 250 cultivars of pansies offer almost the full spectrum, including dark red, red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, white, and brown. Single color cultivars are referred to as ‘clear’, whereas multicolored cultivars that display dark blue or black centers are referred to as ‘blotched’ or ‘faced’.
Despite the fact that pansies are actually a perennial, they are treated as annuals here in the Southeast. The reason for this, is because they rarely last through the heat of the summer. Pansies prefer full sun to partial shade and a cool, well-drained soil.
Good drainage is vital to preventing disease such as the common black root rot. If your soil is mostly made up of sand, (like the rest of Moore County), take the time to add some organic material. A bag of garden soil or a mixture of finely ground pine bark and compost would be best. Both options will improve drainage and ensure the proper amount of water retention for survival.
If you have done all that is recommended and still see signs of disease, make sure your plant’s root ball has been planted level with the soil line.
How to Plant Pansies
Planting above the soil line can cause pansies to dry out, while planting below the line can incite disease. When planting your pansies, it is recommended to mulch as it stifles weed growth and helps retain moisture. Apply 2 inches of mulch between your plants, and about a ½ inch directly around the plants themselves. Spacing between your pansies depends on your desired aesthetic. The common practice is to space plants 4 to 12 inches apart.
Maintenance for Pansies
Maintenance for pansies is minimal. To ensure prolonged blooms, deadhead and fertilize your annuals. When individual blooms begin to fade, simply prune. Water soluble fertilizers such as Miracle Grow should be applied every 4 to 8 weeks. Slow-release fertilizers are also acceptable and should only be applied twice. Apply slow-release fertilizer once when planting your pansies, and again mid-way through the growing season.
In conclusion, only a small amount of maintenance and garden prep will bring your landscape color that lasts from fall to spring. To see which cultivars are best for fall planting, visit the NC State Cooperative Extension and search Winter Color Trial Cultivar Report.