Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Pansies are one of my favorite annual flowers. Their bright smiling faces peering up in early spring offer some assurance of better weather to come. Only in recent years have I planted pansies in the fall, against well-meaning advice of friends and family. Many of them considered it wasteful to buy new annuals in the fall, arguing the remaining growing season was "too short". Eager to prove everyone wrong I planted pansies in window boxes to see how long they would hold on as cold winds began to blow.
What many may not know is that there are several varieties of pansies specifically bred for fall planting and overwintering. These types promise blooms long after the cold sets in, surviving to produce some of the earliest flowers in the spring. Two names to look for at your local garden center are Polarâ or Icicleâ pansies, which are available in more and more gorgeous colors each year. Pansies marketed under these names are guaranteed to overwinter and bloom again in the spring or your money back. I planted my pansies in window boxes and containers, so they did not qualify for the guarantee printed on the tag. Only those planted in the ground, in specific conditions are guaranteed.
Guarantees did not concern me after I witnessed the wonderful results. Not only did my pansies continue to bloom well into October and November, but they were still blooming in December! A below zero cold snap in January brought my colorful display to an end. A few plants survived and bloomed in the spring. A friend that planted her pansies in the garden fared better. Every one of her plants came back triumphantly in the spring. For me, planting pansies in the fall was a worthwhile investment. I was able to enjoy the blooms for over 4 months, plus the few that made it through the winter. This was far from "too short" a season in my opinion. Some tender summer annuals struggle to last that long if they are frost sensitive. Give fall pansies a chance–you may be rewarded with some of the earliest flowers on the block next spring!