It's a fall tradition for gardeners in mild-winter areas of the country: As soon as the mums have faded, they plant pansies.
Now Northern gardeners can do the same, thanks to increasingly hardier pansy varieties. The perky little plants won't flower all winter in New England or Canada, as they do in more moderate climates. But they will produce bright blooms until the first snow begins to fly, and begin again at the first hint of warm weather in early spring.
Fernlea Flowers is so confident that its new Icicle pansies will survive the rigors of winter - even in Minnesota and Ontario - that it's offering them with a money-back guarantee.
Icicles aren't the only pansies that can stand up to shivery temperatures. Ball Seed Co. in Illinois is among the companies working to develop hardier strains. Baby Bingo, whose 2-inch blooms buck the trend toward ever-larger flowers, is one that Ball's Jim Nau recommends to gardeners in cold climates since it has weathered Chicago snow storms.
Mr. Nau and Fernlea's Jeff Howe also suggest violas - a petite cousin of the pansy - to stretch the Northern gardening season. Both look charming when tucked around the ankles of spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips.
Basic care is simple: Choose a sheltered spot that receives six or more hours of sun, then place the plants four to six inches apart in slightly mounded soil to ensure good drainage. To insulate roots, top with a 2-inch blanket of fine bark mulch. Feed with a low-nitrogen fertilizer in fall and spring.
Another secret of success is to avoid planting in containers and areas where water stands after rain or snow.
If you plant now and the weather cooperates, you could see violas and pansies aplenty for almost nine months, a delightful return on your investment.
*For more information on Icicle pansies and violas, visit www.iciclepansies.com.
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