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  Plant Pansies NOW and get 10 Months of Bloom!!!

Q. Dear Mike: Is it myth or fact that there is a pansy that will bloom in both spring and fall? Or are these two different plants?~ If they do exist, when should such pansies be planted? And is it better to grow from seed or to buy flats of already started plants (if one can find them)?
---Bob Weinberg (a wistful listener who loves pansies AND You Bet Your Garden)

A. A fact it most certainly IS, Bobby me boy! I know from personal experience: I've been 'overwintering' pansies ever since I heard that you could do such a thing, and it works GREAT! You get to enjoy those big, beautiful blooms all fall, perhaps all winter as well, and then again for certain from SUPER-early in Spring till summer's heat finally blasts them out.

In fact, that's the real secret of pansies; the only time they WON'T grow well is in the hottest months of summer--generally July and August in the North. So if you plant them early in September, you have a chance of enjoying an amazing ten months of bloom--especially if we have a mild winter! (Southern listeners should probably wait an extra week or two, but not much longer--the shorter days we're already experiencing will help protect the plants.)

Obviously, to do it this year, you'll have to buy plants. And that shouldn't be hard--more and more nurseries and garden centers are carrying pansies in the fall. Yes, some varieties are said to be better for overwintering than others--like the ones marketed under the "Icicle' brand, for instance--but you can assume that anything for sale now should be fine for Fall planting. The nurseries in my area have had a really nice Fall selection for several years now; I generally pick up a couple flats of mixed colors: yellows, blues, brilliant purples...

There are several styles of pansy flower available--from single-colored to artistically 'blotchy' (they're prettier than that sounds, but that's what they call 'em) to frilly ones that look like parrot tulips! And its important to point out that, unlike their wild violet cousins and other relations like early season violas and Johnny-Jump-ups, these aren't small blossoms you have to strain to see. Pansy flowers are HUGE and held high above the plant, like colorful little faces looking at you.

Ideally, plant your pansies where they'll get lots of sun over winter after the trees lose their leaves, but then enjoy some shade when those trees leaf out again in Spring. (I managed to keep several plants going all the way through July and one single plant through the end of August this year by keeping things cool an shady--I can't say for sure that my "Lone Ranger" was one of the ones I planted last Fall, but if it was, I got almost a full year out of it. Now's THAT's an annual!)

Mix some compost into their soil, plant them, water well, and then just stand back and enjoy. The plants will produce new blossoms at least until it gets REALLY cold. Then, depending on the weather, you might give them a little winter protection in the North. A few evergreen boughs placed gently overtop of the plants is the ideal protection; just use cut branches from discarded Christmas trees! Don't try and really 'mulch' them--the branches are just there to prevent the plants from being crushed if we get heavy snow or ice; they don't care about the cold.

Any Northern gardeners who get a nice warm spell midwinter should remove those boughs and let the plants enjoy it--they may even flower for you! (In many of our listening areas down South, they probably will simply flower all winter!)

Remove any winter protection early--in February or March here in the North; as soon as the first Spring bulbs begin to poke up. Don't worry about frost--these super-hardy posies laugh at it! They'll begin flowering quickly and provide you with tons of flowers till summer's heat finally blasts them out...generally around the end of June or early July here in the North (which, coincidentally, is the time you should start seeds inside if you want to grow your own plants for Fall). Down South they may burn out a bit faster; to prolong their life as much as possible, don't be shy with the water and afternoon shade.

And, as we mentioned earlier, pansies aren't just pretty to look at--the flowers of all pansies (and their first cousins, violets, violas and Johnny Jump-Ups) are wonderfully edible; you see them all the time on top of those fancy fifteen dollar 'fusion' salads in restaurants. And those tasty flowers contain a big nutritional bonus! My good buddy, retired USDA botanist and best-selling author ("Green Pharmacy") Dr. Jim Duke has found pansies to be one of the best possible plant sources of rutin--a nutrient that just might be the BEST herbal treatment for spider veins, varicose veins and other capillary problems!

Dr. Duke explains that the medical establishment has found that taking 20 to 100 milligrams of rutin a day can significantly strengthen your capillaries. That amount, he estimates, would be supplied by just half-a-dozen or so big pansy flowers. And if you've heard Dr. Duke on the show, or are familiar with his books, you know he feels strongly that nutrients like rutin are most effective when obtained through natural food sources--like edible flowers--as opposed to pills.

Besides--pills won't look half as pretty as a beautiful batch of pansies growing right outside your front door!

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