*New shipments of pansies and violas have arrived at Palladio Garden, $22.99/flat for most varieties.*
August in Memphis is brutal, always. This year was no exception, but you can relax. It’s over now! And, Fall is just weeks away, officially beginning Monday, September 23, to be exact. Before you know it, coffees shops will be offering pumpkin spice lattes. The leaves of ginkgo trees will be turning yellow, looking as if a pre-school version of Van Gogh got hold of a bright yellow highlighter. And, many people will be planting pansies and violas. If you’re not familiar with how to add this seasonal color to your garden, there are a few things you need to know.
First, pansies and violas tend to grow best when soil temperatures are between 45 and 65 degrees. In the mid-south, that means you need to be patient and wait to as close to October 1 as possible to put them in the ground. To be sure, some stores may even start displaying them as early as late August. They accomplish this by buying them from farms in colder climates or growing operations with large climate-controlled greenhouses. Big box stores seem to do this a lot, because the consumers are willing to buy them that early, not understanding that it is not good for the plants. But, independent garden centers are more likely to wait until later in September to bring in their pansies, knowing their customers rely more heavily on good advice than do the customers of big box stores.
Second, pansies and violas need good drainage. As Professors Bodi Pennisi and Paul Thomas of the University of Georgia write in their University of Georgia Extension Bulletin 1359, Success with Pansies in the Winter Landscape: A Guide for Landscape Professionals, “Planting Pansies on elevated beds, 6-10 inches above the existing grade, will not only assure good drainage but will also improve the visibility of the color display.” So, you may want to bring in extra soil to raise the area to that height, and increase the organic matter in the soil.
Third, pansies and violas need the right soil mix. The soil mix should be high in organic matter. Further, it should be acidic, with a pH between 5.4 and 5.8.
This year, for my own garden, I have decided upon a blocked combination of the ColorMax Icy Blue Viola and the ColorMax Lemon Splash Viola. What about you?
If the area is small, I use a bagged organic planting mix, like Dr. Earth Planting Mix for Acid Lovers. For each bag of soil, about 1.5 cubic feet, I mix in a quarter cup soil sulfur to acidify it. For larger areas, where bagged soil is prohibitively expensive, I buy a bulk soil mix from area mulch yards, adding one pound of soil sulfur per cubic yard of soil mix. Trip Smith, owner of The Yard (a local seller of bulk mulch, soil, and gravel), and an experienced garden designer with decades of experience, writes, “I would use our ‘Garden Mix.’ It is a blend of cotton bur compost, pine fines, and red sand. Pansies and violas also like well-drained soil. This mix is perfect.”
Fourth, it’s important to select a good location. Choose an area where they will be seen. Pansies and violas are low growing plants. So, they need to be in the foreground of a landscape.
Fifth, choose the right number of plants. This is driven by spacing. I prefer to plant them about 8 inches apart. Having experimented with varying distances, over the years, I have come to prefer planting my pansies and violas so that the centers of the plants are 8 inches apart. So, for example, in a 5 feet by 20 feet planting bed, I would install 207 pansies in a grid pattern. There would be 4 rows of 30 and 3 rows of 29, for a total of 7 rows. The first row, consisting of 30 plants, would start about 2 inches from the front of the bed and 2 inches from either end. Then, the next row, consisting of 29 plants, would be 8 inches behind it, each plant 6 inches from either end. Following this pattern would create a staggered formation of 30-29-30-29-30-29-30. From a distance, at maturity, the pansy blooms would present as a solid mass of color.
Sixth, plan for weed control. You can help prevent weeds by using a granular pre-emergent to stop weed seed from germinating, sort of like birth control for plants, and by mulching between plants. Personally, I like to use Hi-Yield Turf & Ornamental Weed & Grass Stopper.
Finally, pick some beauties! Remember that violas tend to have smaller blooms than pansies but are more prolific bloomers. And, though pansies will usually bounce back fine after a hard freeze, violas tend to stand a little prouder during a hard freeze and bounce back more quickly if they do weaken at all. This year, for my own garden, I have decided upon a blocked combination of the ColorMax Icy Blue Viola and the ColorMax Lemon Splash Viola. What about you?