Growing Pansies for Winter Cheer

Honest, they'll survive the cold!

The first time I heard of planting pansy seedlings in the fall, to winter over, I thought, "Say what?! How can they possibly withstand the cold?" After all, pansies have such delicate petals. Surely the frost would do them in?

Well, yes, and no. While frost may indeed wither individual blossoms, the amazing thing about pansies is, the hardy plants keep on making buds.

That same winter, I was over at the Horticultural Gardens at Virginia Tech and there, amid all the sere dormancy that winter brings, was a lovely bright bed of pansies! And they were blooming after heavy frost.

As I looked more closely, sure enough, there were blossoms that the frost had zapped, but the midday sun had opened new blooms to replace them, and the pansies kept right on blooming, in the dead of winter. That convinced me, and I've planted pansies every fall and winter since.

Another nice thing about pansies is the amazing variety of colors that are available to cheer the eye in contrast to winter's gray. While yellow, white, purple and blue are traditional oldfashioned favorites, modern hybridizing has expanded the color array. Lovely pastel shades of pink, peach, lavendar and rose are also available now, and warm oranges, as well as vivid eyecatching bicolors, like banded purple with cream.

Where to get them
Burpee Seeds and Gurney's Seeds at 110 Capital St. Yankton, SD 57079 are two more reputable seed and supply companies, if you need a source to purchase from. When your seeds arrive, follow germinating instructions for starting indoors, and when the plants are big enough, set outside. Remember, also, it's good to give your pansies the protection of a layer of organic mulch around their roots.

Where to plant
For best results with winter blooming, plant pansies in a sheltered corner, or on the side of the house that gets the most warmth from the sun.

Pansies are nice for the nose and taste buds too. Yes, pansies have a lovely scent, and they are also edible! Unlike some winter blooming plants (such as the lovely but toxic aconite), pansies are completely toddler and pet safe. Did your little one eat a pansy bloom or a leaf and feed one to Rover too? No worries! Add another one to the family salad bowl, and see for yourself. (And if you're looking to get into niche marketing, growing edible flowers for upscale restaurants and health food stores is also a possibility.)

Suggestions for planting arrangements
Since pansies are a low growing, compact plant, they make a pleasing walkway border too. Or you can also plant larger quantities to fill a bed to create a mass of a single color, or rows of alternating colors, like a braided rug, only outdoors, with flowers.

So go ahead and add some winter cheer--give yourself a gift of pansies!

This article © 2000-2017 Peg Fisher, used by permission.