One plant that we often overlook for winter color in this region is winter flowering pansies. Sometimes called Ice pansies" they flower at exactly the opposite time as summer flowering varieties. The ones I have in my garden are beautiful all winter. After shearing them back in the spring, they bush out and provide limited color all summer. When fall returns and the evenings become cooler they once again burst into full bloom, each plant having a dozen or more flowers.
The flowers are smaller than those produced on the regular varieties. In fact, they are about the size of violas, or perhaps a little larger. When I state these sizes, I am referring to the true winter pansies. Don't confuse them with some types of regular pansies that are used for winter color. They are also quite satisfactory in the winter garden and have the added advantage of larger flowers. They are sometimes not quite as dependable for winter color, but I have grown both types here.
Winter pansies are available in blue, yellow and white. They can usually be purchased by individual color or in mixtures. However, they are not always readily available. You will have to check your local nurseries, greenhouses and garden centers to find out which ones stock them. If your favorite dealer does not have them, ask him to order some for you.
Like the regular pansies, they should be picked before they go to seed, thus completing their flowering cycle.
Cut flowers are ideal for small arrangements in the home. Leggy growth that develops during the winter or early spring should be pinched back to keep the plants bushy and neat appearing.
Their uses are unlimited in the garden. They are ideal plants to use in containers, especially by the entry area, on the patio or near a driveway, where their colors can best be enjoyed. They are also excellent for spot color, in groups of three or seven per group, especially if the grouping is all the same color. Another ideal location is in foreground plantings or for borders in flower and shrub beds.
One of the finest places to use winter pansies is where you plant spring flowering bulbs. They will not only provide color all winter; they will become a colorful, base-planting when the bulbs bloom in spring and then will help conceal the leaves of the bulbs as they die back in early summer.
Winter pansies are not fussy about planting location. They grow equally well in full sun, part sun and shade or even almost total shade. They should be placed about eight to twelve inches apart for best massed color effect. Place them at the same depth as they were originally grown.
A sandy loam type soil is ideal for winter pansies, although they grow in most any soil, providing it is well drained. At planting times add generous amounts of peat moss, leaf mold or compost to the existing soil. Also mix in a small quantity of transplanting or bulb type fertilizer, following application directions on the label of the brand you use. Mix soil dust into the planting soil, to protect the roots from infestations of soil borne insects and diseases.
Slugs are one of the worst enemies of winter pansies. They can eat the plants right back to ground level if they are not controlled. A regular baiting program is usually necessary to protect the plants.
Light monthly applications of an all-purpose liquid fertilizer in spring and early summer are beneficial.
If you want to brighten up your garden this winter, consider planting a few of the bright winter pansies.