By Charlie Thigpen
Photography by Beau Gustafson
In life we constantly have to make tough decisions, and it’s the same with gardening. Many gardeners have a difficult time deciding whether to plant pansies or violas for fall. Well now there’s a third party that’s become part of the mix. Plant breeders have developed pansies that will actually trail, or cascade, from planters to create a different look in the garden.
The Plus on Pansies
Pansies produce much bigger blooms than violas, so they tend to create a little more impact in the landscape. Selections such as the Majestic Giants series can produce large four-inch blooms. Some sport the classic blotched faces, but you can also find them in solid colors. Delta and Matrix series pansies don’t produce as large of blooms as the Majestic Giants, but they are very well-suited for our southern climate and are more prolific than the larger flowering selection. If you want something that looks a little different, try the new Frizzle Sizzle series. These pansies have ruffled or wavy petals.
No matter how hard you try, you cannot beat violas for winter color. Viola flowers are smaller than pansies, but the diminutive plants are heavier bloomers and violas will rebound quicker than pansies from extreme cold spells like the ones we’ve endured the last few winters. Violas come in an array of colors and their blooms can be found in solid colors or mixed hues. The Sorbet series is the most popular one for the Birmingham area. If you want a profusion of non-stop color, the violas are an easy choice.
Try the New Trailers
For 10 years, plant breeders have worked to create the new Cool Wave and Freefall series. These spreading pansies are awesome for hanging baskets, window boxes, planters, and even beds. They tend grow flat to the ground and sprawl. In planters, they will drape or spill over the edge a foot or more. In the ground, they can be spaced a little farther apart than the regular pansies and violas because of their wider spreading nature.
Many of us select pansies or violas solely on their color, but it’s important to know the difference in the growth habits of these three outstanding winter bloomers. All of these cool-season annuals perform best in full to part-sun. They also enjoy sinking their roots into a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Give them a little slow release fertilizer when planting to keep them happy and healthy. Also, be sure to remove spent blooms to prevent them from going to seed.
All these plants might be small in stature, but they are tough and will laugh at the cold as they provide color from fall until late spring. The pansies, violas, and new trailing selections are all closely related and each has their place in the garden. So don’t fret trying to decide which one you need to plant. Plant them all!