Plant Matrix pansies now for winter color

Pansies such as this Amber mix Matrix selection without the traditional dark blotch are referred to as clear and are great for displaying pure color.
Pansies such as this Amber mix Matrix selection without the traditional dark blotch are referred to as clear and are great for displaying pure color. MSU Extension Service

When I woke up Saturday morning, the cool air felt like getting a visit from an old friend. After our latest long and hot summer, it has been way too long since we saw each other.

During my weekly visit to the local garden center that day, I saw another reminder of the promise of coming cool weather. There were racks and racks of Matrix pansies in all kinds of colors. There were also lots of home gardeners enjoying the weather and in the mood for new garden projects.

I always get asked questions during my garden center excursions, and the big one from this weekend was if it was too early to plant pansies. The answer is that October is absolutely a great time to plant Matrix pansies.

Despite their name, pansies are some of the toughest annual, cool-season color plants and should be planted in everyone’s garden and landscape. For the past several years, I think the Matrix group of pansies is the best for gardeners in Mississippi.

There is a huge range of colors and styles. Flowers with dark blotches are thought of as more traditional pansies, but for pure color, there are selections called clear that do not have the blotch. A nice feature of the clear-colored flowers is that the throat of each has a small yellow eye.

Matrix pansies are also available in color-coordinated mixes instead of the traditional, random-color mixes.

Matrix pansies have freely branching growth habits and will about 8 inches tall and wide. When massed together, as pansies were meant to be planted, they create an impressive, colorful landscape carpet. Matrix pansies flower earlier than other pansies, and strong stems hold huge flowers above the foliage, allowing the petals to flutter in the slightest breeze.

As with all annual color, bed preparation is the key to landscape success.

Always work a little compost into the soil before planting, and be sure to maintain a consistent soil moisture. Feed with a water-soluble fertilizer, even during the winter months.

Pansies may be the perfect winter-flowering annual, as the plants can freeze solid and thaw with little damage. In response to the cold temperature, the leaves will be tinged purple. Of course, the flowers will be nipped back, but once it gets a little warmer, the flowering will rev up again.

Matrix pansies give 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.

Buying Matrix pansies now will give you the best selection and let you avoid the crowds later in the season. Don’t worry that some of your summer annuals have gotten a second wind and may be looking nice. It won’t last, and in a month, your pansies will be pansying and ready for the months of the real cool weather.

Gary Bachman is a professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.