Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Cold-resistant pansies are a favorite of most gardeners

With velvety blossoms in a rainbow of colors, it's easy to see why pansies are a perpetual favorite among gardeners. Pansies come in shades of red, orange, yellow, white, pink, blue, purple and black with three basic color patterns -- a solid clear color, a single color with black lines radiating from its center and those with a dark center blotch known as a "face."

The pansy is perfect for all of us gardeners who are itching to get outside and plant something now! Don't let the delicate features and charming face fool you; pansies are tough little plants and can be planted early in the spring long before other flowers. Pansies thrive in cool weather and will tolerate light frost or cold night temperatures, but be prepared to cover them if temps fall below 20-25°F.

If there is a sudden winter cold snap and pansies freeze, there is a chance they will not die. Many hybrid pansies have a high tolerance for cold and can be frozen quite solidly and the plants still will not die. You may notice a purple cast to the pansy leaves, which is a sign of stress and can be a result of cold temperatures.

Being a cool crop, pansies prefer a partially-shaded area. A location with morning sun and moist, well-draining soil is ideal. Blossoming will slow down in the high temperatures of summer, but if you keep them well-watered during the dry weather and keep their roots cool, they may bloom again once our temperatures start falling in late summer.

If pansies fail to thrive, it is often because neither nature nor the gardener provided enough water. Water the soil (not the plant leaves) deeply. Mulching around the pansies with two inches of organic material will help conserve moisture, and reduce weed growth. A granular or time-release fertilizer can be incorporated into the garden soil as you are planting.

Pansies also love to be groomed daily. The more spent flowers you remove, the more flowers you will have. In the yard, pansies work well in shady patio planters, window boxes, borders and beds. They have a light fragrance that is more apparent in the early morning and dusk when the air temperature cools. Yellow and blue varieties seem to be more aromatic than other varieties.

 Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.