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Add some color to your winter garden

Posted: October 20, 2013 - 12:04am

Winter annual flowering plants will add color to the winter landscape. Pansies, violas, snapdragons, flowering kale and cabbage are good choices for the winter climate in the Augusta area. Pansies are a popular choice because of their color varieties, cold tolerance, availability and planting options.

Pansies are available in many colors, from white to rich gold, purple, red, rose, maroon, orange and violet, with many shades in between. They are available as solid colors, called “clear” faced pansies; blotches of colors, called “faced” pansies; and two-toned pansies. Some varieties have petals with crinkled or ruffled edges, and flowers range up to 4 inches in diameter. There are more than 300 varieties of pansies on the market.

Pansies are generally considered hardy plants. “Hardy” refers to the plants ability to withstand cold temperatures, even frost if not for extended periods of time. In the Augusta area, the best time to plant pansies is from the middle of October to the start of November.

The reason for these specific planting dates is that pansies require soil temperatures between 45 and 65 degrees for best growth. Pansies planted after soil temperatures are below 45 degrees show stunted, pale green leaves, little growth and, most importantly, little or no flowering. These plants will not have sufficient time to winterize before cold temperatures arrive. Pansies planted too early and exposed to warm temperatures often appear yellow; the stems stretch and the new growth will appear as small rosettes at the ends of stems. As a result, the plants flower poorly and become more susceptible to frost damage and disease. Fungus is prevalent during the warmer temperatures.

Pansies can be planted in planters, containers, or existing beds. Regardless of container choice, the soil needs to have good drainage in order for pansies to do their best. If the soil is holding too much moisture, the pansies will get root rot. Use fine ground pine bark or some other material to improve the drainage of the soil and to retain heat.

Soils that hold moisture should be raised 6 to 8 inches above their existing level to help with drainage. Monitor irrigation and try to keep pansies slightly on the dry side. This will help to harden the plants so they can better withstand cold weather. It is best to water during the day so the plant has time to dry before night.

To sustain healthy, colorful pansies after planting, fertilization is important. Fertilization requirements for pansies differ from other types of seasonal color plants. Avoid using fertilizers containing high amounts of slow-release ammoniacal nitrogen, which can weaken the plant and make it more susceptible to winter injury. The best fertilizers to use will contain formulations with nitrogen derived from potassium nitrate, calcium nitrate, and perhaps magnesium nitrate.

Diseases that cause problems in pansies are crown and root rot, black root rot and Botrytis blight. Crown and root rot is the most prevalent disease on pansies.

It is most active in warm, wet weather and occurs on pansy beds in the fall and late spring. The fungus infects the plant at or just above the soil line and causes greenish-brown lesions on the stem. The plant may die when the main stem is infected. Black root rot attacks the fine feeder roots of the plant.

An infected plant will be yellow in color and stunted.

Botrytis blight, an airborne fungus, attacks almost any flower or damaged plant tissue. It is most common on plants that have high rates of fertilization, death of lower leaves, low light intensity, frequent watering, early flower production, and plants that are crowded.

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