Pansies shrug off late frost


As fall weather brings frosts, your annual flowers will start to fall victim to nighttime temperatures, wilting and turning brown. Some annual flowers are more tender than others. The petunias and lantanas in our landscape seem to shrug off the cold, while the impatiens and begonias are fading fast. In Marjorie’s garden, all the annuals are in containers, and once the summer annuals keel over she has to replace them with more cold-hardy flowers. Mums are fairly cold-hardy, so some of our planter pots have fall mums blooming in them.

You can have a colorful garden well into December. Nurseries that sell mums, Halloween pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn often offer cold-hardy ornamental cabbage and Kale. These make a colorful display combined with cold-hardy flowers.

One by one Marjorie is replacing frostbitten annuals in many of her containers with cold-hardy pansies. The bright, cheerful showier colors of fall pansies really stand out. It’s hard to resist their cheerful velvety, friendly faces. Pansies can be planted right now regardless of the weather. They shrug off the cold, frost and snow well into the winter months.

A little-known fact is that most pansy varieties can be perennial and come back every year. Pansies like cool weather, so plants you install this spring will bloom again in fall and again next year if you protect them from summer heat. Likewise, fall pansies often get established and reappear in early spring.

A popular variation on the pansy is the Viola, or “Johnny-jump-up”. Pansies and Violas are cousins in the same plant family. Their dainty, pastel colored blooms are charming. Once established they will self-seed in cool, moist areas of your garden and you’ll have more every year. Like pansies, violas like cool weather or a shady location. They’ll fizzle out in early summer, by which time your annual bedding plants can take over. You’ll be surprised how they pop up next spring when you’ve forgotten all about them!

Pansies and violas are very easy to grow and easy to transplant. Work your soil with some peat moss before you plant, mix in a little Flower-Tone or other dry fertilizer with the soil, and lightly mulch the plants once they’re in the ground. Like most plants they will grow better in fluffy, well-drained soil than they will in hard clay.

Experienced growers grow their pansies in unheated greenhouses instead of forcing them in a warm greenhouse, so their pansies are tougher and more “hardened off” than hothouse-grown plants. These pansies won’t “shock” when you put them outside, and they have very healthy root systems accustomed to cold soil. Cold-grown pansies are definitely superior.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at For more information is available at or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

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