The weather could not have better for the Fall Flower and Garden Fest in Crystal Springs this year. Thousands of people attending the Oct. 16-17 event enjoyed clear, blue skies and bright sunshine. The fall-like temperature felt great as I talked with fellow gardeners.
Many people asked me about pansies. Most of the plant vendors had gorgeous pansies for sale, and home gardeners wondered if it was a good time to plant pansies. My answer to every one of them was a resounding, YES! Mid-October is the perfect time to plant pansies in your Mississippi landscape.
Pansies are tough plants that will perform all through the fall and winter. One of the pansy series that I appreciate for its landscape performance in Mississippi is the Matrix pansy. It has a wide range of available colors. Many Matrix pansies have the traditional blotch, sometimes known as being "faced." This is the dark coloration of the lower flower petals.
Though all Matrix mixed colors are gorgeous, I like the Matrix Ocean Breeze mix with varying shades of blues to dark purples. Another attractive group of Matrix flowers has clear colors. These flowers don't have a blotch, and they flash pure color. A nice feature of the clear-colored flowers is that the throat of each one has a small yellow eye.
Another group that will be a sure thing in your landscape is the Delta pansy. Delta Fire is an old favorite of mine. These plants feature brilliant yellow flowers with blotches that range in color from burgundy to rusty red and orange. Such warm colors are unusual for pansies.
Both of these groups of pansies have freely branching growth characteristics and will get 8 inches tall and wide. When massed together, they create an impressively colorful landscape carpet. Matrix and Delta pansies produce more flowers than other pansies, and they produce them much earlier. Strong stems hold the huge flowers above the foliage and allow the petals to flutter in the slightest breeze.
Prepare landscape soil as you would for summer flowering annuals. Amend the soil with organic matter, and add a couple of handfuls of a good controlled-release fertilizer to maintain nutrition for pansies' extended garden performance. Keep the planting beds evenly moist, even in the low temperatures of winter.
Pansies may be the perfect winter-flowering annuals. The plants can freeze solid and thaw with little damage. The leaves, in response to cold weather will be tinged purple. Any flowering at the time of freezing will slow down or stop completely. But once the temperature rises, flowering will get revved up again. Matrix and Delta fire pansies will give you nonstop color to get you through the winter months. The short, sturdy stems resist stretching, which means the plants will look good long after the days begin warming up in the spring season.
You can wait until your summer annuals finally start to fade before getting your fall pansies. Using this strategy, you run the risk of not having a good selection to choose from at the garden center. I'm in the habit of planting the next season's flowering annuals before the current plants start to decline, and this drives my wife crazy. My advice is to get out ahead of everyone for the very best selection and make your procrastinating neighbors really jealous.
Gary Bachman, is a professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.