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Pretty as a Pansy

By Marion Webber

Pansies have always been one of the earliest flowers to bloom in the spring.  Because of their hardiness and beauty landscapers as well as home owners love these easy to grow plants.  In the south, places like Disneyland, Cypress Gardens, and many other places use pansies in their beautiful landscapes in the winter. Pansies love the bright sun and cooler temperatures that the southern states have in the winter. When you see pansies and violas blooming it is a sure sign that spring is here!

Growing up on a farm, I remember having fields of pansies.  As a young child it was my job to go behind my parents to crate up the boxes of pansies. Eight in a crate!  I loved doing this as the air was just filled with the aroma of pansies.  I loved all the different colors and decided that rust was my favorite color.  In the winter we even made the crates by hand for the spring crop. Back then there weren’t any plastic crates like we have today.  Our field was very close to the road on twenty three mile road, and all the people would be looking and pointing at our beautiful field.  I must admit, there was a sense of pride in all that beauty, even as a child!

In Michigan, pansies usually start blooming around the middle of April, depending on the weather.  They are biennial, which means they come back year after year from the seed they drop.   For years pansies were only grown only in the field, but now with greenhouses, many growers start them directly in the greenhouse. When they are seeded in a greenhouse they are are more tender than those grown outside. Since the “overwintered” plants have been grown outdoors all winter, they are more tolerable to the cold weather.  In Michigan we can get a cold snap in the spring. I have seen snow lay on the flowers many times as the snow melts, it may leave spots on the open flowers, but by picking the flower off at the bottom of the stem, you will see a new flower in no time! The leaves may also turn a deeper purple with cold weather, but the new growth will return to green when it warms up again. Violas which look like pansies but have smaller flowers and smaller plants, are also grown the same way.

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Growing pansies can be fun, and by saving your seed you can restart your own plants at the end of the season.  As the flowers begin to fade away, pick off the spent flower at the bottom of the stem, to encourage more flowers.  Once the weather gets warmer, your plants will take on a “leggy” look. Now is the time you can let your plants “go to seed.” Instead of picking off the spent flower, you allow it to form into a little seed pod.  Watch it carefully. At first the seed will be green inside.  When the little seeds turn brown you will see the pod start to burst open. Now is the time to collect the seed.  These seeds are small and almost impossible to collect once they hit the ground. Store them  in a dry, cool place.  If you want to start the seeds to grow outdoors all winter you can sow them in early fall.  Be sure  to keep the colors separate by labeling  each color and keeping them in separate containers. Store the seed in a dry dark place until it is time to seed them again outdoors.

Having a raised bed to keep the seeds contained works best. The bed should be in a sunny area, as pansies thrive in the sun. Use a good rich and sandy soil.  Spread your seed very thinly over the soil. Moisten the area which helps set the seed. Keep the area moist. A light layer of straw can help to keep the sun from drying out the area too quickly. Let the new seedling grow until plants are about 2-3″ tall. Now is the time to space out the plants.  Gently dig into the soil to loosen the ground. Reach under the plants and try to keep as much root on them as possible.  Separate each plant apart and plant your “new” pansies wherever you would like them to be in the spring.  During the winter you can mulch them in with marsh hay lightly to prevent winter loss.

Pansies can be used in a variety of crafts. Drying pansies has always been one of my favorites.  They can be used for decorations, crafts and are even edible!  Be sure they have been thoroughly cleaned. Pansies make beautiful decorations on cakes and the sides of platters, and are widely used in upscale restaurants!  Whatever you use them for, enjoy!  It means spring is finally here!

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