September Gardening Tips
The kids are back to school and autumn is looming. Here are some tips from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture for your September gardening: . . >>>read the article

UT Gardens' Plants of the Month: Pansy and Viola

by Dr. Susan Hamilton

Pansies and violas are the perfect flower to enliven a winter landscape. In the South, both bloom non-stop from fall to spring providing cheerful color in a time of the year when it is least expected.

Pansies are surprisingly durable and winter-hardy plant. Pansies can thrive in the dead of winter, and their colorful blooms will poke through a blanket of snow. They can even be planted while they are frozen in their planting trays. Once thawed, they put on a spectacular show in the garden.

Though winter durable, do not expect the same performance from pansies and violas in the summer. Southern heat and humidity are not suited for these cool temperature bloomers. Consider planting them as perennials in a garden border and enjoy them when they are rejuvenated by cool temperatures.

The history of the pansy is linked forever to the viola, its ancestor, but there are differences between the two. Viola is a large genus containing around 500 species. The hardy but delicate viola was cultivated by the Greeks for herbal medicine and much later inspired William Shakespeare to write of romance. Violas, often called “Johnny-Jump-Ups,” have proven to be more winter hardy and durable in the landscape than pansies. However, they don’t produce as large or as showy blooms. The pansy’s transition from the small viola wildflower to the beautiful, large-flowered pansy resulted from the dedicated efforts of an English gardener in the early 1800's.

Both the leaves and flowers of pansies and violas are edible and high in vitamins A and C. The flowers impart a strong flavor and have been used to make syrup, flavored honey and salads. Both the leaves and flowers can be used as a garnish, such as on cold fruit or cream soups. The flowers are also useful as a dye.

Though pansies and violas can be easily grown from seed, gardeners who seek instant color in their garden will find packs and flats of pansies at their local nursery or garden center. Choose plants that are stocky with dark green foliage. The ideal plant is one with just a few blooms but with many buds.

Pansies and violas thrive in moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. They prefer full-sun to partial-shade and should be fertilized at planting time. Planting in September through November is ideal to ensure that plants get established before cold weather really sets in. Be sure to mulch these cold weather annuals to give them added protection to endure harsh weather.

Good nutrition is key to preventing disease in pansies. Also keep garden soil at a pH less than 5.8. Mixing peat moss into your soil or using a fertilizer high in sulfur will lower pH levels.

Nothing is more impressive than when pansies and violas are planted in mass. However, make sure your spacing is correct. Pansies and violas are small plants that grow only 8 to 10 inches tall and wide. They should planted 6 to 8 inches apart.

The University of Tennessee and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens tested 142 varieties of pansies and violas in 29 different series for landscape performance and appeal. Nine were chosen as outstanding:

Pansy series: Maxim, Crystal Bowl, Universal, Fanfare, and Sorbet
Viola series: Splendid, Penny, Springtime, and Jewel

Six were chosen to be star winners:

Pansy varieties: “Fanfare Deep Blue Blotch”, “Clear Sky Orange”, and “Skyline White”
Viola varieties: “Jewel Maroon and Yellow", “Sorbet Yellow Delight", and “Penny Violet Beacon"

If you find that you are truly taken and passionate about pansies and violas, you may want to get involved with the National Viola and Pansy Society. You can find this international group on the Web at:

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Dr. Susan Hamilton is an associate professor of ornamental horticulture in the University of Tennessee Department of Plant Sciences and director of the UT Gardens. The UT Gardens are located on Neyland Drive in Knoxville. They are open seven days a week during daylight hours. Various selections of witch hazel are currently in bloom, and if temperatures warm, the pansies and violas should put on a colorful show.


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