I went to visit a friend with small children. I had forgotten how fun and how honest children can be. I was the life of the party because I brought twisty balloons. Soon, the room was filled with balloon swords, bears, dogs and monkeys. The younger girl got so excited that she would ask for one thing after another.
The oldest boy was enjoying his sword and pirate hat. In the midst of all the fun, he must have been watching me because suddenly he asked, Why are you so old? If I had been talking to an adult I would have said, Because I have not died yet! But that seemed a little morbid to tell a child. I had to let the question drop since I did not have a good answer.
Getting older leaves its marks on you. Plants are similar. They can get old and need some rejuvenation. That is the great thing about spring. It is a time of renewal.
Our pansies have been showing their age lately. I think the temperature extremes we have seen have taken their toll. Warm temperatures encourage lush growth, but the cold damages this new growth. Pansies usually survive frost and freezes well, recovering after several days. However, back and forth temperatures can damage plants and pansies are no exception.
To renew your pansies, begin with a spring cleaning. Pull any weeds, being careful not to pull up the pansies. If there are a lot of weeds, add a little mulch to prevent further weeds. At the same time, pick off any dead and dying pansy flowers or seedheads. This is called deadheading. Removing old flowers and seedheads encourages pansies to put more energy into flowering instead of producing seeds.
Remove and discard dead or dying plants. These may harbor diseases that can spread. Dig up and discard the roots as well. You can replace plants you remove, but expect new plants to grow more slowly than pansies planted earlier in the year.
Pansies also can run out of fertilizer in the winter. The leaves will be small and turn yellow or purple and there may be fewer flowers. If needed, fertilize your pansies again. Liquid fertilizers usually act more quickly but granular fertilizers last longer. Using both types may be best. To do this, lightly scatter granular fertilizer over the plants. Do not apply fertilizer to wet plants because this may make the fertilizer stick to the plant and burn the leaves. Use a broom or the back of a soft leaf rake to lightly bush the tops of the plants to make the fertilizer fall to the ground. Finish fertilization by watering the plants with a liquid fertilizer or plain water. Be careful to read and follow fertilizer label rates to avoid over-fertilization.
Pansies can quickly get dry at this time of year. Poke your finger into the bed to see if the soil needs water. Water deeply but infrequently. Apply at least a half inch of water each time, but water no more often than once a week. Water between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. to reduce disease problems.
Some pansy leaves may have irregular, purplish spots. This is probably a fungus disease called cercospora. If the disease begins to spread, you can slow disease progress by using fungicides containing thiophanate-methyl. Proper timing of watering, applying mulch and picking off badly infected leaves can also slow disease spread.
If you expect very cold weather, you can protect your pansies the day before with a thick cover of pine straw, leaves or a sheet. If you use a sheet, use a support so that the sheet does not rest directly on the leaves. Remove the cover once the temperatures get into the 40s. Do not keep pansies covered longer than two days.
Sometimes, it is best for your pansies to raise a stink. Deer really love to eat pansies. In their efforts to clip off the flowers, deer often pull up the entire plant. Repellents containing putrescent egg solids (rotten eggs) work well to repel deer for a while. Applying Milorganite as a fertilizer will also repel deer. Expect to reapply the repellents as needed.
Willie Chance is retired from the University of Georgia Extension in Houston County. To reach your local extension office, call (800) ASK-UGA1 from any non-cell phone.