Pansies Ain't No Pansies

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     To the new gardener, planting pansies now may seem like a futile effort considering that the first frosts of fall are looming on the horizon.  Despite their name, pansies are a hardy plant that can thrive in seemingly sub-arctic temperatures.  Pansies also have a rich history.  Here are some amazing pansy facts:

  • Pansies are a hybrid plant derived from the viola species viola tricolor.
  • Originated in the early 1800s when it was first bred by William Richard, gardener to Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet (no relation to the fictional character in Pride and Prejudice).
  • By 1833, there were 400 named pansy varieties available to gardeners who once considered its progenitor, heartsease, a weed.
  • The name pansy is derived from the French word pensée (thought) because the flower resembles the face of a person in deep thought.
  • Other names for the pansy include: heartsease (heart’s-ease), love in idleness, and flower of Jove.
  • Pansies are sometimes called the “Herb Trinity,” with its three colorful petals symbolizing the Holy Trinity.
  • Pansies are naturally a biennial, only blooming in their second year, but modern engineered varieties bloom during the first year (usually within 9 weeks).

Pansy Care Tips

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By following these basic steps, your pansies can survive the winter and bloom again in the spring:

  • Plant in foundation beds in protected areas facing east and north.
  • In most cases pansies are hardy to -10 F.
  • Fertilize initially and water throughout the dry fall season, discontinue after a hard freeze.
  • Pansies may appear dormant until the growing season (March through late May).
  • Pansies are not recommended in areas without protection or in unprotected containers.  Root balls tend to freeze in shallow setting.  Mulching may help to insulate until the spring season.
  • Continuous freezing and thawing of the root balls can actually force them up and out of their holes if not properly planted.