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Its time for pansies
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Pansies are the quickest and easiest way to add color to a dull fall landscape. They are a hardy winter annual native to Europe, and most likely a hybrid of Johnny Jump-up flowers. Millions of pansies are grown each year for the Georgia market, and with more than 300 varieties to choose from, you will most certainly find a pansy color to suit your taste.

When purchasing pansies at a garden center, always give the plants a thorough inspection. Choose plants with dark green leaves and compact growth structure. Avoid plants with pot-bound roots and leggy, stretched-out growth form. Give the plants a quick check for any insects or diseases.

You will see pansies of many different sizes available. Larger pansies are more expensive, but they will give you a longer blooming season. Smaller plants do not yet have a large root system, so extra growth time will be required before peak bloom.

Good planting bed soil is critical for good pansy displays. Soil conditioner or compost should be tilled into the bed. Three inches of soil amendments should be tilled down to a depth of 12 inches for best results. Adding sand to the amendments will also help improve drainage. Pansies hate "wet feet," so good drainage is essential. Mounding the planting bed up 6-8 inches above the surrounding soil helps drainage and adds to the color presentation.

Pansies need to be fertilized differently than summer annual flowers. The slow-release and urea-nitrogen fertilizers used in the summer can disrupt the growth of pansies. Choose fertilizers that are high in nitrate nitrogen. Many are labeled and pansy fertilizers. Nitrate fertilizers are more easily taken up by the pansies at lower temperatures.

Drench the planting bed soil with a fertilizer mix directly after transplanting your pansies. A layer of pine straw or bark mulch can be added to conserve soil moisture around the flowers.

Pansy maintenance is fairly simple. They should be fertilized monthly into the spring to encourage good blooming. If rain is infrequent, pansies should be irrigated regularly to maintain vigor. Deep watering is preferred because it encourages deeper root growth. Spent flowers should be "dead-headed" to encourage new flowering and prevent fungal disease.

Pansies are cold hardy and can survive low temperatures and snow. Their leaves will wilt and shrivel, but the main plant will survive and emerge again in the spring. A layer of pine straw can be added over the top of the pansies to further protect them during a long cold snap.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.