Gardening in Gwinnett: Pansies excellent cold weather plants

As the weather begins to cool down, the summer annual flowers will start to fade and will eventually have to be removed since they are not tolerant of freezing weather. The summer flowering plants will be replaced by pansies, a type of violet that has remarkable durability in the winter landscapes and can survive low temperatures and prolonged cold spells. They bounce back rather quickly when the warmer temperatures return and reach their peak flowering in early spring. Often, flower bulbs are planted in and amongst them to enhance their beauty.

The pansies come in many different colors and color combinations, and some varieties have ruffled or crinkled edges. Closely related to the pansies are another species of violets called Johnny-jump-ups, which have much smaller flowers and more of them per plant. They are more heat tolerant than pansies, and Johnny-jump-ups are great for planting around bulbs and larger flowers. Both plants are extremely versatile and can be in window boxes, containers and hanging baskets.

Proper planting techniques are essential to ensure pansies perform at their best. Planting at the appropriate time is crucial for pansies. If planted too early while the weather is still hot, the plants will stretch, become weak and spindly during the summer heat. If planted too late in the season, they will not have enough time to become established and the risk of cold damage increases. The ideal time for planting pansies in our area is Oct. 15 through Nov. 15.

When purchasing plants, make sure they are healthy with dark green foliage, with few blooms and many buds. Avoid plants with pale, spindly appearances. Pull a couple out of the containers and examine the roots. They need to be brown to white, vigorously growing throughout the root ball, and the top part of the plants should not break off easily at the base.

Water the plants prior to planting. Pansies need full sun to be at their best and prefer moist, well-drained soils. In many cases, the soil will require additions of organic amendments such as compost, topsoil, Nature's Helper or some other suitable material. Broadcast an all purpose complete balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 or 8-8-8 across the beds. Make sure the plants are thoroughly watered prior to planting. Pansies do well in raised beds since they are smaller, more compact plants, and the raised beds afford better drainage. Apply mulch like pine bark mini-nuggets one to two inches thick, but make sure the plants are smothered with it. As the weather cools, apply a water-soluble fertilizer with a similar nutrient ratio periodically. Remove the old blossoms as they fade to encourage the plants to put out more flowers.

Even though the pansies are cold tolerant, during periods of extreme or prolonged freezing weather, apply a small layer of pine straw over the plants to prevent the possibility of damage from the extreme cold. Remove the pine straw as the temperatures increase. When the weather becomes warmer in April and May, the pansies will begin to fade out and die, so remove them and replace with summer flowering plants.

Pansies and Johnny-jump-ups are excellent flowers for the home landscape. If properly planted and maintained, they will be a great asset to the yard. For any questions regarding pansies, please contact the Gwinnett County Extension Office.

Timothy Daly is the agricultural and natural resources extension agent with Gwinnett County Extension office. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.