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Cool Wave pansies bring superb cool-season color

Like many other home gardeners in Mississippi, I’m in the full swing of planting cool-season annual color. And like everyone else, I’ve been planting my favorites, which are Matrix pansies and Sorbet violas. You really can’t go wrong with these easy-to-grow landscape plants.

But the last couple of years, I’ve been kicking the pansy planting up a notch, to borrow the catch phrase of a famous New Orleans chef. I’ve been using Cool Wave pansies more and more in some nontraditional settings.

If the Wave sounds a little familiar, Cool Wave pansies were developed by the same folks who brought the popular Wave petunias to many of our gardens.

Cool Wave pansies are much more vigorous than standard pansy varieties. The plants are well branched and can really fill a landscape bed or hanging basket with good color from fall to next spring. I absolutely love their trailing growth habit.

The first thing I tried with them was when I planted some in recycled rubber slip-on shoes attached to my fence and let the plants trail down. They had some issues on the few really cold January nights compared with those planted in the ground.

This year, I planted some in the 25-gallon containers around my citrus trees, using them as a colorful ground cover. Cool Wave pansies are really well-suited for growing in these big containers and make great spiller plants a little later in the season.

I decided to go with solid-purple flowers this year, but there is quite a selection available.

Violet Wing has a happy duo of colors combining white with elegant, velvety, deep-purple wings. Frost has softly shaded lavender-white flowers, and Blueberry Swirl has plentiful flowers with yellow faces surrounded by baby blue. My favorite is Sunshine N’ Wine, with its bright, sunny-yellow flowers accented with mellow burgundy wings. All of the flowers have whisker lines radiating from the center, resembling delicate brush strokes.

I am impressed with a particular pansy attribute in the garden and landscape: their cold tolerance. The Cool Wave trailing pansies exemplify this attribute.

These plants are well adapted to all Mississippi hardiness zones. During really cold weather, they will appear to freeze solidly, but when temperatures rise a bit, the plants will have only minor damage. The most visible effect is some purpling of the foliage. Any frozen flowers will be goners, but flowering returns very quickly when the weather warms.

It is important to maintain consistent soil moisture for these plants, remembering that the fall and winter months can be dry. Many gardeners don’t realize that all pansies are heavy feeders, and they stop flowering when soil nutrition gets too low. Apply a water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks to maintain good plant growth.

Grow Cool Wave trailing pansies, like their traditional upright cousins, in the full sun — which means at least six hours each day — for the best flowering and growth.

Dr. Gary BACHMAN is an associate Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.