Pansies and their Companions

Martie Young
Adams County Master Gardener

Everyone is familiar with pansies--well, maybe not everyone. Anyway they are one of the early signs of spring if you are one of those gardeners who is the first one to the garden store on the first warm, sunny day. Have you also noticed that pansies are the last flowers at the garden store in fall--just when you think it's too late to plant something you come upon those flats of pansies, maybe sitting next to the mums and fall asters? There is a reason why the pansies are there. They grow well in cool conditions. And if you plant them in the fall you may see them peeking through the snow in winter or beginning to bloom as soon as the snow melts and the soil begins to warm up.

[]How cool you may wonder? Pansies are the traditional cold-tolerant annual. They can be safely planted outdoors in containers or directly in thawed ground by late March when temperatures remain in the upper 20's. They can also be planted in the mid-to late fall and many times will winter over, protected by a blanket of snow. If you do plant in the fall you can probably count on blooms that fall and again in the spring. If you plant in the spring, usually you will see them perked up and blooming again in the fall. There are exceptions--if it is extremely cold in winter or hot in summer they may succumb. Planting in the spring will probably require you to cut the plants back to recover and bloom again in the fall.

Enough about pansies. You can also plant a number of other cold-tolerant annuals when you plant your spring pansies. To some extent the public isn't educated about these annuals. Here they are in the greenhouse, blooming and looking lovely. Maybe you have chosen some of these to mix with other annuals that do better in hot weather--such as geraniums, annual vincas, impatiens, and petunias. If that is the case, and you have planted in containers, you will find that plants such as Swan River daisies (Brachycomb), or dianthus, diascia, nemesia, scaevola, or snapdragons will stop blooming during the heat of summer. If you are patient, they will probably begin blooming again in the fall, but you may not have had the flower display in your container that you expected.

A better solution in containers may be to plant all cold-tolerant annuals together and then replace the entire container with some heat-tolerant annuals in June. If you are planting in the landscape, some people replace their pansies with annual vinca. Annual vinca (Cataranthus roseus) is a special plant in that it should not be planted until late May or June when the soil warms up. If it likes the conditions, it will bloom profusely in sun. It is very tolerant of heat and drought.

Here is a list of cold-tolerant annuals that thrive in temperatures as low as 28 degrees. Most are available at the same time as pansies.

  • Brachycomb--dime-sized blooms against deep green, fern-like foliage
  • Calendula--compact or larger plants with rich color ranging from light yellow to apricot or orange
  • Dianthus--vivid reds and pinks create a carpet-like effect in spring and fall; plants may bloom again the next spring
  • Diascia--low-growing, sun-loving plants filled with continuous flowers above trailing foliage
  • Nemesia--compact brilliant blooms with a semi-trailing habit; also fragrant
  • Scaevola--1" mauve-blue fans cascade from containers or hanging baskets; plant with Sunscape Daisies
  • Snapdragons--long bloom time; various heights and colors
  • Stock--fragrant and graceful flowers bloom abundantly in cool weather
  • Sunscape Daisies (Osteospermum)--bloom profusely in cooler temperatures and all summer long; cut back in August for a strong rush of bright fall color

Be sure you follow good planting habits with your cold-tolerant annuals. You should be able to plant pansies and others as soon as the soil can be worked. If there are blooming flowers on the plants when you buy them, they should be disbudded when planting in order for the strength to go into the plant. Make sure you deadhead all your annuals so that they will continue to bloom with vigor for as long as possible. If you follow these suggestions you should have a nice long season of cold-weather annuals, followed by your hot-weather annuals and manage to have blooms long into the fall season.

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