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Gardeners' Dirt: Pansies are Texas tough beauties

By By Linda Lees - Victoria County Master Gardener Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Jan. 9, 2013 at midnight
Updated Jan. 9, 2013 at 7:10 p.m.

A trio of pansy blooms peek through ivy foliage. Pansies are noted for striking colors, although pastel hues are readily available.

Companion Pansy Plants

•  Johnny-jump-ups

•  Violas

•  Bluebonnets

•  Dianthus

•  Flowering cabbage

•  "Bright Lights" Swiss chard

•  Snapdragons

•  Giant red mustard

Pansy Trivia

•  Scientific name: Viola x wittrockiana

•  Name comes from French word meaning "remembrance" or "thought."

•  Crosby County has a town named Pansy.

•  Known as "trinity" herb because of wild pansy's three colors.

•  Ingredient in some dermatological creams and expectorants.

•  If ingested in high doses, can cause severe vomiting.

2013 Lunch and Learn With the Masters

• WHEN: Noon-1 p.m. Monday

WHERE: Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, 2805 N. Navarro St.

• COST: Free to the public

• ABOUT: "Propagation 101," presented by Victoria County Master Gardener Roy Cook. Bring your lunch and drink.

If someone calls you a pansy, they may think they're calling you a sissy.

What they're really saying is just the opposite. Pansies are so tough they thrive in Texas during winter. Give them cover and they survive single-digit temperatures. When other annuals "bite the dirt," these little beauties keep blooming.

Decades ago, Texans warmed up to these charmers with the hooked stems, and the Victoria area is no exception.

Just look around. You'll see them in front yards and near street curbs, bringing the bling factor to an otherwise drab landscape.

They look handsome in hanging baskets. They dazzle in borders. Potted with other plants, their frilly blooms are unabashed scene stealers.



Once there was a wildflower

Wild pansies, also known as "Johnny-jump-ups," have existed beyond human memory on the European mid-continent. In 1839, the pansy as we know it appeared.

According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, English horticulturist William Thompson developed the first pansy hybrid "Medora" with its famous monkey face. The "faced" pansies were an instant hit in Europe, and by the 1880s, the craze was at full tilt in America.

In the early 1900s, Dr. Charles Stewart, of Scotland, produced the first solid color pansy without a face. Since then, countless new varieties or series of pansies have been available to the public.



Pansies are not fussy

Successfully growing pansies starts at the point of selecting which ones to plant.

Selection - Whatever you do, refuse plants that are yellow, neglected or straggly. Texas A&M AgriLife suggests looking for compact, green selections exhibiting a few blooms and many buds.

Planting - Next comes the planting. Ideally, pick a spot that gets at least six hours a day of sun, though pansies make do with partial shade. Make sure the soil easily drains. This means you may have to add an amendment. If you really want to make them happy install raised beds.

Feeding - Because pansies are heavy feeders, one Victoria nurseryman suggested adding blood meal or time-released fertilizer to the soil. Watering with a liquid fertilizer every two weeks won't hurt either.

Watering - Plant every 6 to 12 inches apart and water well to prevent transplant shock. Top with a layer of mulch to keep in the moisture. Don't forget to water the plants regularly, but easy does it. Pansies don't like bogs, and they will drown sitting in water.

To encourage blooms, pinch them off below the hook of the stem when petals fold up.



Other things pansies don't like

Environment - Pansies don't like heat and drought. By late April, they're goners. Wind and rain makes them droop temporarily. Cold snaps will freeze them into a wilt but they will pop back.

Pests - Aphids, slugs, spider mites and pill bugs are not pansy friendly, but can easily be managed with pesticides and baits. Nonetheless, ask any Victoria nursery and you will be told deer are the No. 1 enemy.

Deer - Deer will feast on these delicate morsels every chance they get. If you live in the country, or occasionally see deer in your neighborhood, putting your pansies behind a fence is a good idea.



Decorative food

All pansy blooms are edible. They have a mild, minty flavor and are used to decorate salads, desserts and refreshments.

Beware of those plants sprayed with systemic pesticides. For this reason don't eat flowers from roadside vendors and many nurseries. More than one source of information on this topic warns this goes for plants that have been blooming for weeks. The plants should come from a supplier that offers flowers safe for ingesting.



Take pansy challenge

Pansies really are a rewarding garden delight. Obtain healthy plants, follow a few simple rules and with a bit of luck they provide startling color.

Available in a rainbow of colors, from creamy white and pale yellow to the darkest blue and purple, pansies encourage gardeners to be creative. Moreover, these elegant bloomers enhance the exterior of your home. Don't neglect them and they will reward you throughout the cooler months.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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