To some, the end of winter is marked by longer daylight, budding shrubs, and returning songbirds. To me, the true mark of spring is the emergence of Pansies at my local garden center: rows of pink, yellow, purple, and blue “faces” lined up in baskets outside the store.

Pansies are a remarkable plant. A cousin of the Violet, Viola and wild “Johnny Jump-Up,” they thrive in the warm days and cool nights of early spring and fall. This compact plant with 1-4″ blooms comes in every color of the rainbow, all with contrasting “faces” in the center. A mature plant will spread 6-8″ across and grow 6-8″ high.

In cool, northern climates, plant Pansies in full sun. In the south, choose a bed with some afternoon shade. Pansies prefer well-drained soil with a little organic matter added to improve the soil quality. When planted in poorly drained soil, these plants are very susceptible to root rot.

To prolong blooms into summer, deadhead the spent flowers and pinch back the leggy stems and foliage to 1-2″ every few weeks. Pansies will produce fewer flowers if spent blossoms are allowed to go to seed. Technically, an annual, Pansies can be coaxed into a second season if planted in a sheltered area and covered by a layer of winter mulch.

Plant pansies early in the season for color around your emerging bulbs. Later in the season, Pansies are perfect companions to taller flowers such as Delphiniums and Veronicas. Pansies are also ideal in the front of a border, in containers, and in rock gardens.

Pansy blooms are edible. Use them in salads or to dress up a plate.

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