Mote: Plant pansies for winter color

October 16, 2013 

Last week, I visited a nursery in north Georgia that specializes in growing pansies. The beauty of what I saw in its greenhouse inspired me to write this column.

One of the benefits of living in Georgia is that we can plant pansies and enjoy their color in our winter landscape.

Pansies are capable of surviving single digits temperatures in the winter. They are one of the top-selling bedding plants for fall and are planted by the millions in Georgia.

Pansies have an array of color, ranging from white, gold, orange and red to purple, with everything in between. They can come in a single color, solid color blotches, two-toned and all sorts of color blends.

The modern pansies are thought to have evolved from Viola tricolor, which is a native plant of central Europe. They were used in the fourth century by the Greeks as herbal medicine for curing respiratory problems.

By 1850, many varieties could be found on the European market. They became popular in North America in the 1900s. Today, there are more than 300 kinds of pansies.

The best time to plant pansies in Middle Georgia is now through Nov. 1. Pansies need a soil temperature between 45 degrees and 65 degrees. If the soil temperature drops below 45 degrees, the pansies will shut down.

If they are planted too early and exposed to warm temperatures, it can cause them to turn yellow, elongate, flower poorly and become more susceptible to frost, insects and disease.

Pansies can be purchased in a wide variety of sizes, from celled containers to 4-inch pots. Quality of pansies at purchase is highly important because it determines how the plant will perform.

Healthy pansies should be free of insects and disease, compact in size, leaves are deep green in color, and have white fibrous roots that are not root-bound in the container.

Pansies prefer well-drained soil. They should be planted in elevated beds that are 6-10 inches above existing grade. This will ensure that water drains properly.

If the bed was previously planted with summer annuals, remove any leftover plant material and mulch. This will limit carryover of plant disease and insects. When planting in a new bed or revitalizing an old bed, incorporate organic matter into the soil to increase the soil’s water and nutrient holding capacity.

After incorporating the organic matter, take a soil test to determine the nutrient and pH level.

Pansies prefer a pH of 5.4-5.8. Do not over fertilize pansies especially with nitrogen. This can cause elongation of the stem and thus weaken the plant.

Plant pansies 6, 8 or 10 inches apart depending on how full you want your flower bed. After planting apply mulch and water thoroughly. Watering after planting is critical because it will eliminate air pockets around the roots.

When temperatures drop below 25 degrees, pansies will wilt and turn a grayish-green. This is a natural response to colder temperatures.

A layer of pine straw 2-4 inches deep over the entire bed will help in protecting pansies from colder temperatures. Special freeze prevention fabric can also be used. After the cold weather passes, carefully rake pine straw off the pansies.

For more information on any program area, contact Houston County Extension at 478-987-2028 or drop by our office in the old courthouse, downtown Perry, 801 Main St. Office hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Visit our website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/houston for more news about your local Extension office.

Source: UGA Extension Publications

Dates to remember

Oct. 15-17: Sunbelt Ag Expo, Moultrie-www.sunbeltexpo.com

Nov. 14-15: Perry Small Conference, recertification credits

Nov. 15: Master Gardener Advance Training, Cleanscapes

Dec. 14: Small Farming: Where to Begin

Charlotte Mote is the Houston County agricultural and natural resources agent. Contact her at 478-987-2028 or cmote1@uga.edu.

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