If you have not planted pansies in a few years, you are in for a pleasant surprise. These little troopers of cool-season color are now available in trailing selections. I visited my garden center Saturday and felt like a kid in a candy store. Glorious trailing violas and pansies were there already looking lush and full.
Of course, it was the cooler temperatures that sent me shopping in the first place. Fall is my favorite time to garden. It seems like everything from pansies to snapdragons have an enticing fragrance, and the new tumbling pansies and violas can hold their own.
They may be called spreading, trailing and even cascading, but whatever the name, you will want some for baskets, mixed containers, window boxes and the landscape, too. 'Rebelina' violas and 'Plentifall' pansies (also called 'Cool Wave') are just a couple that will open the door to a dimension in cool season gardening.
When I say dimension I am talking about the vertical element that the new pansies and viola will give. Though you probably never thought about pansies cascading over a wall, it is now possible.
With pansies and violas, bed preparation is crucial. When I was with Mississippi State University, we tried a number of organic amendments and found peat incorporated with our topsoil gave the best results, even better than some that I had relied on for years.
Prepare the bed before planting by amending the soil with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like peat, and till it to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. This will help loosen the soil for better water penetration and aeration, leading to good root development.
While you are preparing the soil, take the time to incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release fertilizer like 12-6-6 per 100 square feet of bed space. Set out plants 10 to 12 inches apart, planting at the same depth they are growing in the container. Maintain a layer of mulch to keep soil temperatures moderate. Commercial landscapers simply plant on raised beds using a prepared soil mix. At roughly $20 a cubic yard this is a small price to pay for almost guaranteed success.
Violas and pansies are both heavy feeders. Feed them every four weeks with a light application of fertilizer or every other week with a diluted, water-soluble 20-20-20 or similar fertilizer. Research has shown that once cold weather arrives, the water soluble fertilizer is more readily available to the plant.
These new trailing violas and pansies will give you a look in containers you have been unaccustomed to for the cool season, so let your imagination run wild in choosing partners. Consider foliage plants like kale, cabbage or cardoon. You also can choose foliage like ivy or asparagus fern. For taller, spiky flowers, think about snapdragons or the Citrona erysimum or Amazon dianthus.
Whether you are planting in the landscape or in large, mixed containers, consider dropping in a few daffodils. Come spring when these show out, you will have the perfect spring finale. The new trailing violas and pansies are just a couple of the reasons why you need to head to the garden center now before they are all sold out.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." Contact him at gardenguy2000aol.com.