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Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

Last year a friend and gardener extraordinaire, Philip Jenkins, told me to try a pansy called ‘Purple Rain.’ Its claim to fame is its ability to spread and fill a 12-inch area of the garden or to cascade down the sides of hanging baskets or containers.

This year, along comes something a little different then ‘Purple Rain;’ Trailing Pansies. I talked with Mark McGrady, the General Manager and self-styled janitor at Seven Oaks Plant Shop in Irmo, South Carolina. He gave me some insights into the trailing pansies on the market today and what might be ahead for these versatile plants, which are hardy to Zone 5.

“In the trailing pansies there are two different series, Mark said. “ There’s the Free Fall series and then there’s the Cool Wave series.” Different developers offer these but they have very similar growth habit.

Both series are great for containers. “Folks love to put them on the front porch of their house. Depending on the orientation of the house, they may be getting sun from just one direction. That is a natural runner and they will be reaching for the sun so rotate the baskets” around to keep them growing evenly on all sides. “It is pretty important for a hanging basket just to spin around every couple weeks.”

“You can trim them to promote branching but they will continue to run because their natural growth habit is to run and spread said Mark.” The stems of the flowers as well as the plants themselves are quite long. They eventually flop over. “You will be fighting gravity” if you attempt to trim them into a ball shape. You could trim them every week to promote branching but “most consumers aren’t that dedicated, he said. “They just want it to set out there and do what it does and they don’t have to touch it.” They do need to be deadheaded¹, “for them to look their best,” he explained.

“Grow them in any good-draining potting soil. They are not going to like wet feet. We have seen a tremendous problem with the (… moisture control soil) for fall and winter use. They just stay way way too wet.” Seven Oaks uses an equal amount of vermiculite, peat, and bark worked together as their growing medium.

When you water a hanging basket and the water runs out the bottom, the nutrients are running out the bottom too. “I have not found them to need any more water than the other series pansies, but they do need more fertilizer since they are doing more things; more vigorous growth for the spreading. We try to let folks know as they go out the door that they need to be a little bit more conscientious on the feeding.”

A 3-4 week feeding program with a water-soluble fertilizer keeps new fresh flowers dangling. This isn’t as critical in the coldest winter weather, but is necessary for good growth during warm spells. “Either the triple 20 (20-20-20 fertilizer) or a blossom booster, Jack’s Classic 10-30-20, works very well with them. That one has pretty complete micronutrients. That is what we feed throughout our system here.”

“I am sure you notice when you look at them, they are small bloom pansies, about 1 inch to 1 ¼ inch, a more similar bloom size to the old Crystal Bowl series,” Mark explained.
“With the smaller blooms they don’t flower quite as heavy as violas would but the flowers are a little bit more abundant than a bigger series pansy, like a standard old ‘Majestics’ or something like that.”

Mark said, “They are continually working on new colors. I think you will see the line expand here over the next 3-4 years as it gains ground here. You will see more colors. A lot of them you look at now have that bi-color wing. I think some of those traits have come from the viola. I imagine you will see some larger blooms in the next several years, which I am kind of speculating on. That’s kind of the rumblings I’m hearing in the wind.”

¹Deadhead: Cut off the spent flowers. Make sure you are removing flowers that have died and not the tight new buds that are just beginning to open.
Posted October 31, 2014.

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