The pansy is recognised as a cheerful flower, a happy easygoing flower.
The plants are easy to grow, so much so that if left to their own devices they will often self-sow and come up by themselves year after year.
They will naturalise themselves into an area, coming up between cracks of paving or concrete, popping up throughout a garden, self-sowing into containers or pots nearby. They seem to survive in the toughest of spots with little water or sun as well as thriving in well-watered, fertile, sunny areas.
Pansies establish quickly, reaching flowering stage from first seedling appearance or planting in a matter of weeks. They then proceed to flower prolifically for six months or more.
It is little wonder the pansy is such a popular plant. They thrive through three cooler seasons of the year, but dislike the hot intense sun of summer. The cooler weather, while slowing the speed of establishment a little, doesn't seem to slow the flowering. The pansy is an excellent plant to grow for colour during the dull winter months.
The pansy is more popular than ever before and for many good reasons. The versatility of uses and tolerance of such a range of conditions has allowed this plant to gain popularity through all generations and ages of gardeners and non-gardeners alike.
There are a number of ways you can use these cheerful, easy to grow, colourful plants to brighten up your winter abode and capture the imagination of others.
Pansies are excellent for growing in hanging baskets. Planting both the top and sides of the basket will create the appearance of a ball of colour which will look spectacular wherever you hang them. Using a wire basket with a coconut liner will allow you to be able to put a slit in the sides with a craft knife through which the seedlings can be planted.
When growing in hanging baskets, watering needs to be watched more carefully as, given they are suspended, they tend to dry out quicker than pots on the ground. The addition of Saturaid to the potting mix, if it does not already contain it, will help dramatically with water retention.
Brighten the front entrance way
Nothing is more welcoming than a colourful floral display by the main entrance way; whether it is a home, shop, business or community building, a display of pansies will provide a most eye-catching and colourful display for winter and spring in garden borders and pots.
Colours include purple, white, blues, black, scarlet, yellow, gold, etc, and mixed colours. All are vibrant and produce a bright mix of colourful, cheerful flowers on strong compact plants for a long period of time.
When growing in pots don't be tempted to reuse old potting mix – tip this into the compost heap and start again. More than half the success of any plant depends on the soil it grows in. Select a decent potting mix and you're on your way to success. In the garden centre we recommend (and use ourselves) Natural Bark Potting Mix.
Pansy or viola?
What is the difference between these two similar but slightly different flowers? Plants considered to be pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down, whereas violas have three petals pointing up and two pointing down.
I think the common description that most of us generally use is simpler - with the term "pansy" for those multi-coloured large-flowered hybrids that are grown for bedding purposes every year, while "viola" is usually reserved for smaller, more delicate annuals and perennials.
Slugs and snails
The biggest pest for pansies, as with most annuals and bedding plants, is slugs and snails. These critters seem to disappear during the daytime and come out at night when no one is watching and devour young seedlings. When planting, it is prudent to spread slug pellets around to protect your winter colour display.
The only other problem that is sometimes encountered when growing pansies is mildew. This shows up in the form of violet grey powder on the tops and/or undersides of the leaves. It is a sign of humidity and in Whanganui it usually only shows itself in late spring at the end of "pansy season" when the plants are best removed to make way for summer plantings of annuals.
The secret food for success
The little known but favourite food of pansies is dried blood. This is not a fancy trade name but the name of the actual product, 100 per cent organic from the meatworks. It comes as a powder in a 300g sachet which can be sprinkled around the plant and watered in. It is high in organic nitrogen and iron and, if applied regularly as a side dressing, it will help prolong the flowering season and improve the health and strength of your pansies.
Just a note, this is a quite different product to blood and bone which contains phosphate at a relatively high level which promotes more root establishment than top growth and flowering promoted by dried blood. Use dried blood for pansies planted in baskets, pots or in the garden. Try it - you'll be pleased with the results.
Have a good week.
* Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre