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Skaggs: Want winter color? Plant some pansies
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Now that daytime temperatures are cooling down, fall finally has arrived. With the arrival of fall also comes the arrival of pansies - one of my favorite winter annuals.

Pansies are popular plants throughout Georgia because of their ability to perk up a garden with instant color, and they are easy to grow. They also are resistant to many diseases and have a pleasing fragrance. Yellow and blue flowers seem to have the strongest scent.

A big plus with the pansy is the variety of colors. Pansies can be purchased in almost every color of the rainbow: red, yellow, blue, violet, white, pink and maroon; some even have black flowers. Some have faces or dark blotches in the center.

Pansies also come in a variety of sizes. The large category has blooms that range in size from 3 1/2 inches to 4 1/2 inches. Medium size blooms run 2 1/2 inches to 3 1/2 inches. The small, or multiflora, bloom sizes run 1 1/2 inches to 2 1/2 inches.

Generally, pansies with smaller flowers tolerate heat and adverse growing conditions better than the large-flowered types. Pansy series that grow well in Georgia include atlas, crown, crystal bowl, happy face, majestic giant, regal and skyline.

When choosing pansies from a nursery, select flower colors that suit your garden design. For best results, choose plants that are stocky with dark green foliage and have few blooms but many buds.

In most cases, pansies perform much better in the landscape if you do a good job of preparing the soil. Choose a location with well-drained soil. Pansies will not grow well in soil that stays constantly wet. Work 4 to 6 inches of organic matter - such as garden compost, soil conditioner or well-rotted leaves - into the soil with a shovel or tiller.

If the bed in which you are planting previously contained summer annuals, make certain you remove and discard the old vegetation to avoid carry-over of insects and diseases. Also, rake to the side of the bed any existing mulch and avoid incorporating it into the soil. If the old mulch is worked into the bed, the microbes in the soil will compete with plants for nitrogen as they feed on and break down the organic matter.

Place plants in the holes with the soil surrounding the roots still intact. Cover the plant roots with garden soil and water thoroughly with a liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20. Mulch around the plants to help conserve moisture and reduce weed growth.

Pansies have many applications in the winter landscape. They add drifts of single-colors to an otherwise dull winter landscape or as a mass planting with several colors mixed together.

Use pansies in a flowerbed with colors appropriate for holidays such as red and white for Christmas. Pansies also perform well in containers placed on the deck or patio or next to the entrance to your home.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.