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Smiling faces available in an abundance of colors

By Jim Crawford
University of Georgia

Among all the flowers in our Southern gardens, one of the most popular, if not the most popular, is the pansy.

I'm very fond of them because of the unique patterns and really bright colors. They come in just about every shade from yellow to, oddly enough, black. I particularly like the yellow ones with the "faces," while my wife likes the violet shades.

Plant alone or in bunches

Pansies have many applications in the landscape as drifts of single color or as massed planting of mixed colors. My wife and I used them in masses across our front flower bed when we were selling our house.

If you watch the real estate shows on television, you know that they advise you to have a pretty "street appearance" when you're trying to sell a home. I can't say that the flowers turned the trick, but the house did sell so fast we had to hustle up our moving plans.

Another great thing about pansies is you can plant them in tiny or large spaces. Pansies are attractive planted under evergreens, around trees, around the mailbox, in window boxes or in planters.

Multiseasonal bloomers

Not only do pansies come in a wide assortment of bright and gorgeously mixed colors, they bloom in the garden up to six months during the fall, winter and spring. Few other annuals can make that claim.

Pansies do best when the night temperatures are below 65 degrees and can withstand temperature as low as 2 degrees. The time to plant pansies is when the heat finally tapers off.

Pansies come in a variety of sizes. Generally, pansies with smaller flowers tolerate heat and adverse growing conditions better than the large-flowered types. Some varieties that grow well in Georgia are Springtime Yellow Blotch, Universal Plus Yellow Blotch, Happy White Face and Imperial Pink Shades. Now, who couldn't like a flower that has a catchy name like that and produces eye-catching splashes of color all winter?

Prepare the soil

Pansies love to grow in full sun, but they will also grow and flower in partial shade better than other annuals. They will perform very well if you'll do a good job of preparing the soil. Choose a well-drained location and work organic matter such as garden compost, peat moss, commercially composted manure, potting soil or well-rotted leaves into about the top 4 to 6 inches of dirt using a shovel, tiller or hand trowel.

It would be a good idea to get your soil sampled so you'd have lime and fertilizer instructions. However, since pansies like a low pH and that describes most of our soils, you could just amend the soil and plant.

Pansies don't have a high requirement for fertilizer. One and a half pounds of bone meal per 25 square feet is helpful. You can use either a slow-release fertilizer or 1.5 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet.

Prepare the soil, hand-pack

Pansies should be planted in beds about the same level they were growing in the packs or just slightly higher. Spacing is a matter of personal preference, but I suggest planting them about 6 inches apart.

After planting, don't forget to lightly water and hand-pack the soil around the plants. This ensures the soil is in good contact with the roots and the stems are supported so they stand up. And it allows the soil to retain the moisture longer, giving the plants a better chance for survival.

Next, place a couple of inches of mulch around the plants. Soil moisture should be monitored for the first three weeks until the plants have established good root systems.

It's always discouraging to spend time selecting flowers, preparing soil and doing the best job of planting that you know how, only to see the flowers die or just not grow well. If you don't have a natural "green thumb," pansies are almost foolproof. Give them a try. I bet you'll like what you see.

(Jim Crawford is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension coordinator in Jefferson County.)

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