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Plant Pansies NOW for Bloom Through Next July!
Q. Dear Mike: Is it myth orfact that there is a pansy that will bloom in both spring and fall? Ifthey do exist, when should such pansies be planted? And is it better togrow from seed or to buy flats of already started plants (if one canfind them)?
                      ---BobWeinberg (" who loves pansies AND You Bet Your Garden"); Delaware Cty.,PA

A.    It's afact that I know from personal experience, Bobby me boy! I've been'overwintering' pansies for a good decade now (not the same ones ofcourse) and it works GREAT!  You get to enjoy those big, beautifulblooms all fall, often throughout the entire winter, and then againfrom super early in Spring till summer's heat finally blasts them out.AND those blooms are also deliciously edible and unbelievablynutritious—but we'll get to that in a minute.

If there's a real 'secret' topansies, it's the fact that the only timethey DON'T grow well is in the hottest months of summer—July and Augustin the Philadelphia region, extending into June down South. So if youlive in a 'medium level' (USDA zone 6) climate and plant them aroundSeptember 1st, you have a chance of enjoying an amazing ten months ofbloom if we have a mild winter! Down South you may 'only' get eight ornine months of flowers before the heat shuts them down—but how bad isthat?

Obviously, if you want pansies thisyear, you'll have to buy a flat ofplants at this point. And that shouldn't be hard—more and morenurseries and garden centers are carrying pansiesin the fall. (Yes, some varietiesare said to be better foroverwintering than others, but you can assume that any pansiesavailable right now are good for Fall planting.) I just picked up amixed flat of six packs in colors that ranged from yellow to blue to abrilliant 'blotched' purple. And despite the negative implications oftheir common name, pansy blooms are not tiny or the least bit shy—theflowers are HUGE and held high above the plant, like colorful littlefaces looking at you. Violas, violets and Johnny jump-ups—their equallyedible first cousins—are more delicate in size, but not in character;like pansies, they'll laugh at weeks of snow cover.

Ideally, plant your pansies wherethey'll get some shade now, but lotsof sun when the trees soon lose their leaves and the weather cools.Then they'll get the benefit of that cooling shade when those treesleaf out again in Spring and the weather warms up. Remember, they loveSUN, but DON'T like heat.  Mix some compost into the ground, plantas you would any annual flower, water well, and then just stand backand enjoy. The plants will pump out lots of new blossoms until (ormaybe I should say 'if' with global warming getting worse) it getsREALLY, REALLY cold.

Then, if you're in zone 6 (weathergenerally like the New York toPhilly to Wilmington region) or anywhere North of there, you should beprepared to give the plants a little winter protection when the weathergets REALLY cold. (Note: this does NOT apply if you're actually IN abig city in zone 6, where the buildings create an almost Mediterraneanclimate.)  

The ideal way to provide thisprotection is to place a few evergreenboughs gently overtop the plants. That keeps really cold, really dryair from desiccating the flowers; and more importantly, the naturallyspringy boughs prevent the plants from being crushed if you get heavysnow or ice. Cut branches from discarded Christmas trees are perfectfor this, and they're available in huge quantities for free just whenyou need them!

If we get a really warm spellmidwinter, remove the boughs and let theplants enjoy it—they'll probably even flower for you! If it doesn't getreally cold this winter, just keep the boughs handy and enjoy the showas the plants bloom continuously. Again, South of the Philly area, youdon't need winter any winter protection (at least for your pansies).You can just plant and enjoy!

If you do use winter protection,remove it as soon as the first Springbulbs begin to poke up. Don't worry about a few late cold snaps—thesesuper-hardy posies are totally frost-proof, and will begin floweringagain quickly, providing you with tons of flowers till summer's heatfinally blasts them out around July (which, by the way, is also thetime to start seedsin a cool, well-lit area indoors for planting outthat Fall).

And like I said earlier, these toughlittle posies aren't just prettyto look at—the flowers of all pansies (and their first cousins:Violets, volias and Johnny jump-ups) are wonderfully edible; they'rethe flowers you often see adorning fancy salads in really classyrestaurants. And those tasty flowers contain a big nutritional bonus!My good buddy, retired USDA botanist and best-selling author ("TheGreen Pharmacy"; Rodale Books) Dr. Jim Duke notes that pansies are oneof the best plant sources of rutin—a nutrient that strengthenscapillaries and thus helps prevent or reverse disfiguring spider andvaricose veins! So plant LOTS right now—and enjoy colorful blooms andhealthy salads all Fall! And Winter… And Spring…

Speaking of Fall Planting…
It's WAY too early to plant Springbulbs right now, but it's prime timeto acquire those plants-to-be. You heard me right—even listeners in ourNorthernmost regions shouldn't put those bulbs in the ground yet—theycould sprout prematurely and ruin next season's show! Prime time forbulb planting in the Philly area is between Halloweenand Thanksgiving,soon after Thanksgiving in the mid-South, and in December further down.

Yes, I know that stores are sellingthem now, often with big signssaying "Spring bulb planting time is here". It's not. You should waitto plant—but NOT to buy. Wait till the correct planting time and youcould wind up empty handed.  So purchase your supplies NOW andyou'll get exactly the varieties and colors you want—in the bestpossible condition.  Then keep those plants-to-be in a cool airyspot till it's time to plant. DON'T seal them up in plastic bags! Hanging in open mesh bags in a cool spot is ideal.

You Bet Your Garden  ©2004 Mike McGrath

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