There is always something for the gardener to look forward to in the last weeks of winter.
Those pansies we see gracing so many gardens now in May are beautiful to behold. Just as it seems spring will never come, and that certinly was the case through most of April this year, a burst of color appeared on the blacktop of the garden center. What a welcome sight - the pansies are here.
One of the few bedding flowers that can survive cold temperatures well below freezing, it can safely go into the ground well before the local safe date of May 15 for planting annuals.
Botanically a perennial, pansies often are grown from early spring until mid-summer, when the heat takes a toll and slows growth and the production of new flowers, and the plant becomes leggy and less appealing. And so, pansies often are treated as annuals.
It is nice, at the time they are looking less attractive, the self-sown seedlings of portulaca emerge in my flower beds and then I don't feel so bad about pulling the pansies.
The literature tells me, grown under optimum conditions as a perennial, seeds will produce leaves only in the first year, and then seeds and flowers the next year. I think some of my sources are dated because I have grown pansies from seed in the past and had flowers the first year.
Maybe the flowers are not as large or colorful, but it can be done.
The ever-evolving hybrids can do wonderful things. I no longer start pansy seeds, not even the violas and Johnny Jump-ups that are close relatives, but just wait for the first sight of commercially grown ones, which is a sign other flowers will follow.
This year has been a poor one for all the expensive seeds I planted under lights in the basement. Using the same light and heat as in past successful years, I had low germination and generally miserable looking seedlings of tomatoes, peppers and several flowers.
It is a good thing we have so many excellent nurseries and garden centers close to home.
The many varieties of pansy available now all stem from the wild heartsease that was grown years ago, and which was bred into the beauties we have come to expect, beginning in 1812.
My favorite is Delta, which has large blooms and lasts well. The wide color range includes yellow, gold, orange, lavender, purple and white.
One flat is never enough; once the fever hits me, I always go back for another.
Pansies need sun and well-drained soil. Their roots will rot if the ground stays wet. Deep watering is not necessary because the roots do not go much more than an inch below the surface.
But they do need watering in dry weather at least once a week.
Deadheading is important for continuing bloom, especially with the large-flowered varieties.
Problems may include invasion by aphids, and diseases such as leaf spot, mildew and stem rot may occur.
And, of course, I am not the only fan of the viola cornuta. Slugs and snails just love them, too.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.