If you have not planted pansies in a few years, you are in for a pleasant surprise. These little troupers of cool-season color are now available in trailing selections.
They may be called spreading, trailing and even cascading, but whatever the name, you will want some for baskets, mixed containers, window boxes and the landscape.
Rebelina violas and Plentifall Pansies, now called Cool Wave Pansies, are just a couple that will open the door to a dimension in cool season gardening.
When I say dimension I am talking about the vertical element that the new pansies and violas will give. Though you probably never thought about pansies cascading over a wall, it is now possible.
With pansies and violas, bed preparation is crucial. When I was with Mississippi State University we tried a number of organic amendments and found peat incorporated with our topsoil gave the best results.
Prepare the bed before planting by amending the soil with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like peat, and till to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. This will help loosen the soil for better water penetration and aeration, leading to good root development.
While you are preparing the soil, take the time to incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release fertilizer like 12-6-6 per 100 square feet of bed space. Set out plants 10 to 12 inches apart, planting at the same depth they are growing in the container.
Maintain a layer of mulch to keep soil temperatures moderate. Commercial landscapers simply plant on raised beds using a prepared soil mix. At roughly $20 a cubic yard this is a small price to pay for almost guaranteed success.
Violas and pansies are both heavy feeders. Feed every four weeks with a light application of fertilizer, or every other week with a diluted, water-soluble 20-20-20 or similar fertilizer. Research has shown that once cold weather arrives, the water soluble fertilizer is more readily available to the plant.
These new trailing violas and pansies will give you a look in containers you have been unaccustomed to for the cool season so let your imagination run wild in choosing partners. Consider foliage plants like kale, cabbage or cardoon. You also can choose foliage like ivy or asparagus fern.
Whether you are planting in the landscape or in large, mixed containers, consider dropping in a few daffodils. Come spring when these show out, you will have the perfect spring finale.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden.”