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Pansies by Rhonda Feree

Pansies brighten up spring garden

URBANA, Ill. - Pansies are making a comeback in the garden world, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"According to the Garden Media Group, pansy and violet sales were up 6.4 percent in 2011," said Rhonda Ferree. "Since then, pansies have been in high demand for both spring and fall sales."

In the fall of 2011, Ferree said she planted two types of pansies along her back entrance walkway. Four plants were from the 'Majestic Giants II Mix' and two were Cool Wave™ Violet Wing pansies.

"I actually planted the Majestic Giants in my porch container, then transplanted them to the ground bed in late fall," she said. "All plants survived the winter and greened up nicely the following spring."

Pansies and their relative, Johnny-Jump Ups, are cool-season annuals, which means they prefer cold weather. These charming little flowers come in many colors with a variety of markings and flower sizes.

There are more than 250 cultivars of pansies. As with other bedding plants, most of those are part of a series. The 'Majestic Giant' series, for example, has large flowers that are 3 to 4 inches across with face markings and comes in many colors. The 'Majestic Giants Mix' pansy won the All-America Selections (AAS) flower award in 1966 so it has been around a long time.

Other AAS pansy award winners include the 1990 'Jolly Joker,' which is velvety purple with an orange face. In 1991 two pansies were winners. The 'Maxim Marina' is light blue with a dark blue face that is outlined in white. The 'Maxim' series has small faced flowers on more compact plants. The 1991 'Padparadja' is a rare brilliant orange pansy. The most recent pansy winner was 'Ultima Morpho' in 2002, which has a distinct bicolor with upper petals of mid-blue and yellow lemon lower petals.

"In recent years, the folks who brought us the popular Wave™ petunias added a Wave™ pansy to their collection," she said. "Available in several colors, this pansy was bred to grow faster in the spring, spread wider (up to 2 feet), and have double the color of regular pansies. It is available in yellow, white, frost, and violet, or as a mix with a lemon color added."

Ferree was eager to see if the plant lived up to all these claims.

"I was very happy with the performance of the new Wave pansy," she said. "It lasted well into early summer, forming a large colorful clump. I might try it in a container or hanging basket in 2014."

Pansies do best in full sun with well-drained soil. For the fullest display, plant them 8 to 10 inches apart. Use them along bed edges or in containers and window boxes. Plan to replace pansies in early summer before the hot weather fades them away. Ferree interplanted hers with coleus to take over after the pansies were done.

"Consider adding pansies to brighten your spring garden," Ferree said. "When summer fades into fall, plant some more pansies to cheer up the fall garden."