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Master Gardener: Welcoming fall favorites, pansies and mums

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‘I love my beautiful annuals, but I know with fall just around the corner, their days are numbered. Any suggestions for flowers that will give me a little color in the winter?” — P.T.

Yes, the season that is approaching is always a little sad for our annuals. They fought through the brutal summer we just endured and are even perking up a little bit. But we know their days are numbered. I can’t tell you how many days I let my begonias and impatiens hang in there as long as I could, only to visit the nursery to find flowers like pansies hard to find.

If they haven’t already, nurseries will be announcing the arrival of their fall pansies soon, and some are already stocked with mums, so now is definitely the time to think about when you are going to transition your flowers. In other words, we need to put on our big-gardener pants and get ready to make the transition. Since they are the two main flowers for our next season, let’s talk about pansies and mums.

Anyone who has ever had pansies in their landscapes knows that pansies are pretty tough. Those pansies can poke their heads through the snow and stay as beautiful as they were before. They almost seem to enjoy it sometimes.

The ancestor to the pansy we are familiar with is the viola with over 500 varieties in the viola family group. In the 4th century B.C., the Greeks cultivated violas for medicinal use. They even showed up in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in a character named Viola.

At some point, someone found a flower that looked like a viola but had a larger flower and grew in areas with increased sunlight. We don’t know for sure, but this could have happened in France since the word “pansy” is traceable to the French word “pensee,” which means a thought, remembrance or idea.

By 1850 or so, Europeans were breeding pansies to expand the range of available colors and make larger flowers. These pansies proved popular, with over 100,000 packets of pansy seeds being sold from an 1888 seed catalog.

Here in Oklahoma, pansies are considered a winter annual, but in some parts of the country they can be perennials. Today, pansies come in a variety of colors, including purple, red, bronze, blue, pink, yellow, black, white, orange, lavender, apricot and mahogany. Different gardeners have different approaches with pansies. Some prefer to be monochromatic by planting their beds with one color of pansies. Others like to mix it up. Orange and purple are my favorites. And then there are those yellow ones. Oh well. So many choices.

Pansies can be grown from seed, but at the height of the season for nurseries, you can find pretty good deals. If you do want to grow your pansies from seed, it will be about 6 to 8 weeks before they will be ready to plant. Maybe mark your calendars to start them from seed on next year’s calendar.

Pansies are pretty forgiving on where and how they are planted. Just loosen up the soil and start planting. Planting them 6 inches apart will fill your bed with flowers, but farther apart isn’t a bad idea, either.

After planting, apply a light layer of mulch and water them in well. One thing to remember is that your pansies will need water in the winter, as well. Assuming they will be fine on their own without extra watering is one of the main reasons pansies don’t thrive.

After soil temperatures drop below 60 degrees, you can begin to fertilize your pansies following the frequency recommendation of your favorite flower fertilizer.

If we get a really cold snap, your pansies might look a little rough for while, but as soon as the weather warms up a bit, they will bounce back again — sometimes even better than before.

Mums are another fall favorite and seem to have earned their seasonal spot alongside poinsettias for Christmas and lilies for Easter. Pretty much any garden center you visit is packed with mums right now.

Inevitably, we get asked if the mums your purchase at the store can be planted so they will come back next year. The answer is a definite maybe.

A lot of the mums you find for purchase have been forced into blooming to look their best for prime marketing season. Others are bred specifically for pots and are likely not as weather hardy as those you see in gardens. This doesn’t mean you can’t try to plant them outside. I planted one a few years ago and it not only comes back every year, but it continues to expand its footprint in the garden. So, my advice is always — what does it hurt to try?

One winter blooming shrub that gets overlooked is winter jasmine. This one will give you nice greenery during the growing season and then push out these pretty yellow flowers as early as late December. Oftentimes, winter jasmine is mistaken for forsythia. Their blooms are a good way to brighten up your landscape when it’s pretty drab outside. See you in the garden!


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You can get answers to all your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, dropping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St. or by emailing us at mg@tulsamastergardeners.org.

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