Friday, September 23, 2011

Pansies and Violas are Vancouver’s Magic Winter Annual

Did you know that your pansies can winter over? Some can flower through the winter! Be the talk of your neighborhood with a bright and colourful garden in the fall, winter and early spring. Below is an article from the West Coast Gardens manager, Jason Vandermey. He loves pansies and has had some amazing success in his own garden. He shares his secrets in this detailed article with everything you need to know!

'Pansies and Violas are Vancouver's Magic Winter Annual'

Article by Jason Vandermey - West Coast Gardens September 2011
Sometime after the 4th century B.C. in Europe, an acute observer noticed a plant similar to a viola but growing in open areas with more sunlight. This plant thrived in alpine meadows and on rocky ledges. Someone named this plant a wild pansy. Possibly, it was a person living in France who noticed this plant because the word pansy is traced back to the French word pensee, meaning thought or remembrance.
There is a vast selection of variety, colours and sizes of Pansies (Pansy x wittrockiana) and Violas (Viola cornuta) available on today’s market.  Deciding which colours to place in the garden or in planters can be a daunting task as they all boast beautiful colours and textures.  In beautiful British Columbia we are very fortunate to have a perfect climate to grow a garden full of pansies.  Planting pansies in flower beds, en masse or in your mixed container gardens is rewarding for fall and early spring colour.  The new and improved varieties of pansies are able to endure the cold wet winter days that we have in the greater Vancouver areas.  Some Pansies and Violas are now able to handle temperatures as low as -20 C.    However, as strong these mighty plants are, there are a few tricks to having great success with your Pansies and Violas.  Follow these simple steps be the envy of the neighbourhood with your colourful winter gardens.

If you plan on planting your pansies in your flower beds, it is best to plant them in raised beds.  I like to have my flower beds raised at least 12” to 18” or even higher above ground level to prevent my plants roots from being saturated by too much water from rain or snow.  I also like to make a gradual slope from the back forward to add impact to the colourfull display.  Pansies require lots of light and will do best in a south facing location where they can get the most available light.  Planting in areas that are shady will limit amounts of flowers, delay flowering time and can also lead your plants to deteriorate.  Planting Pansies in container gardens is easy.  You don’t have to worry about drainage as long as your pots are able to weep freely. Pots also allow for you to get the wonderful colours closer to your entryways or windows.  Not to mention that the selection of colourful pots you can get that you can use to contrast your Pansies and give a vibrant look.

Use soil that allows for good drainage.  Add some fresh compost to give your plants nourishment when freshly planted and through the winter.  I also like to add some slow release fertilizer when I plant in containers.  Finally, add an inch of black composted mulch to help protect from a deep frost.  A good product that I like to use for this is Sea Soil.  It helps keep your plants healthy and keeps those roots nice and cosy through the winter.  Black compost also gives your flower beds or containers a real clean look and will brighten up the colours in your container or flower beds.
Best time to plant
My rule is to plant my Pansies before Thanksgiving.  At this time the ground is still warm.  A warm bed will help your plants roots get rooted into the soil which will give you huge success in plant quality.  Planting later than Thanksgiving you may risk some plant losses.  Sometimes we can have wonderful September weather and are not ready to take out our summer annuals, but to ensure success with Pansies, we must get them in the ground on time.  

Early Spring duties
In early spring when we get some warm days and with any luck some direct sunshine, your Pansies and Violas are coming out of there winter hibernation.  Take your little three pronged rake and loosen the soil around your plants.  This will give the roots some needed air.   After you have loosened the soil, it is beneficial to give your Pansies and Violas a little boost with some water soluble fertilizer.  I like to use a NKP of 15-30-15 or something close.  Fertilizing with a water soluble fertilizer allows your plants to use the nutrient right away and as a result, you will have dark green foliage covered by a huge amount of flower.  Make sure when you water with your fertilizer in that you give your beds or containers a good drench to get the nutrient right down to the roots.  Depending on the season you many need to water with water soluble fertilizer a few times for maximum plant performance.  Believe me, you will have your neighbours and friends knocking on your door asking how you have such a colourful garden in the middle of March.  I hope that you will share your success with them. 
The genetics of Pansies have been worked on tremendously by breeders.  The results of which are plants that are cold tolerant with a wide range of colours and textures.  Available to you are blotch face and clear face varieties, fluffy ruffles, whiskers, vibrant two and three tone varieties, true trailing varieties for winter and early spring hanging baskets, and small bountiful flowering varieties such as the Sorbet Violas.  The best Pansies for planting in the greater Vancouver areas are the Matrix, Panola, and Delta lines of Pansies.  For a small flower yet bountiful look, go with the Panola Pansies, and Sorbet Violas.  The best true-trailing pansies are the Cool Wave (aka Plentifall) Pansies.   Excellent companions for Pansies and Violas are Daffodils, Tulips, Crocuses, evergreen grasses, Ivies (for container gardens) and conifer shrubs.
Now that you know what to do, get em’ in the ground before Turkey dinner! 

Cool Wave (aka Plentifall Pansies) in Jason's yard, this past April