Plant pansies for early spring color

While driving to an assignment Friday morning, I noticed the buds on the crabapple trees that lined the street were swelling and turning dark red.

This means it won’t be long before the flowering trees are filled with color, something that always brightens our mood after wading through a cold, dreary winter. More than once in the past few weeks, I’ve heard someone comment, “It will be nice to see some green again.”

Even better than waiting for something to turn green or even waiting for the flowers on the trees to burst open, is the spring tradition of planting pansies. Perfect for this time of year because they provide a burst of brilliant colors, pansies thrive in cool weather making them the brightest blooming plant to help welcome spring.

If you can’t get into the yard to put them directly in a garden bed because the soil is still too wet to work, that’s not a problem. Pansies love growing in containers.

In addition, if you didn’t sow seeds last fall for early spring blooms, no problem. Pansies are easy to find in garden centers. They are often sold by the basket and they aren’t expensive. A couple large pots of pansies by the most frequented door to your home, and you can’t help but feel that spring is finally here every time you go in or out. Place containers filled with pansies in pastel or jewel-toned shades near windows so you can look out and see them from your favorite chair. No yard should be without pansies this time of year.

In keeping with the theme of spring, pansies are supposed to make us think of love. According to folklore, leaving pansies for a woman is the symbolic way of telling her you are thinking of her. It is bad luck, however, to leave pansies for a man.

The colors of the flowers also have their own meanings. Pansies, which are derived from a cross between the common tricolor violet and other species of violets, are often shades of blue, white, lavender and everything in between. Common tricolors violets are white, blue and yellow, which were believed to represent the trinity. The violet traditionally means modesty, but the color blue symbolizes faithfulness and white beckons the presenter to “take a chance.”

Although the words “violet” and “pansy” are often used interchangeably, there is a noticeable different between the two flowers. Violets have three petals pointing upwards and two that point down, while pansies have four petals pointing up and only one that points down.

The pansy petal distinction explains why another common name for the pansy is “stepmother flower.” The larger, lower petal is the mother and the two petals directly alongside are her daughters. But the two upward petals that seem to set behind the others are the “stepdaughters.”

I did not make this up.

Pansies can be treated like biennials, sowing the seeds in mid-to late-summer. They winter over well, especially if mulched, and will go dormant over the winter, only to bloom in early spring. Most people, however, simply buy the plants, already blooming, in early spring and fill their beds and containers. Pansies like bright sun but will tolerate partial shade. Pansies often give up when the days get too hot for long periods of time, but there are heat resistant varieties available. If the summer is cooler than normal, pansies can continue to bloom all summer and into the fall.