2017- The Year of Pansy
Each year the National Garden Bureau selects one bulb, annual, perennial and vegetable to showcase, with plants being chosen for their popularity, variety, ease of growth, wide adaptability and versatility. This year the featured annual flower is pansy, one of the most friendly looking flowers!

History
Until the 19th century most people considered pansies a weed, but today they are hybrid plants cultivated from wildflowers originally found in Europe and western Asia. Much of the collection and cultivation of pansies can be attributed to plantsmen and women in the UK and Europe more than 200 years ago. For example, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet, daughter of the Earl of Tankerville, and her gardener cross-bred a wide variety of Viola tricolor (common name “Heartsease”) and showcased their pansies to the horticultural world in 1813. Further experiments around the same time eventually grew the class to over 400 garden pansy varieties.
In the late-1830s the classic pansy “face” was discovered in a chance sport that produced a broad dark blotch on the petals. It was released to the public by James, Lord Gambier with the name “Medora”. Further hybridization of V. tricolor, V. lutea and a blue-flowered species of Russian origin, V. altacia, led to breeders selecting plants for more unusual pansy colors, different color combinations, and a larger flower size.

Modern Pansies
Garden pansies, Viola x wittrockiana, are a mixture of several species, including Viola tricolor. Often the names “pansy”, “viola”, and “violet” are used interchangeably. However modern pansies are classified by the American Violet Society as having large-flowered blooms with two slightly overlapping upper petals, two side petals, and a single bottom petal, with a slight beard in its center.
They’re considered annual bedding plants, used for garden decoration during cooler planting seasons. Today’s garden pansies can fill any sunny space – large or small, hanging overhead or growing underfoot – with soft fragrance and happy blooms.
 Pansies come in a rainbow of colors from crisp white to almost black, and most all colors in between. They are a great addition to your spring or fall vegetable garden as they are edible and pair well with lettuces. They can also be candied and used to decorate sweets or other dishes.
Most pansies fall into a few categories, such as large flowered (3 to 4 inches), medium flowered (2 to 3 inches),  multiflora (1 to 2 inches) and a new category of trailing pansy.

Some modern large-flowered pansy series include:
Majestic Giant, bred by Sakata (where Majestic Giant White Face was a 1966 All-America Selections Winner)
Delta, bred by Syngenta, and
Matrix, bred by PanAmerican Seed.

Medium-sized pansy series include:
Crown by Sakata, and
Imperial from Takii & Co., Ltd. (Imperial Blue won an All-America Selections in 1975).

Multiflora pansy series like Maxim and Padparadja won AAS awards in the early 1990s.
 Trailing pansies are new on the gardening scene and work well in hanging baskets or as ground cover plants. Cultivars include WonderFall from Syngenta, and Cool Wave® pansies, from PanAmerican Seed – the makers of Wave® petunias. These trailing pansies spread over 2 ft. wide and overwinter in fall gardens.

Growing Pansies from Seed
To germinate, start your pansy seeds indoors with a soilless mixture to minimize seedling diseases. Plant seeds 1/8 inches deep with a light cover and a gentle watering. Pansies prefer darkness for germination. The media temperature should be 60-65°F and keep air temperature at 70-75°F. The media should stay damp (covering with a plastic wrap or damp newspaper will help retain humidity. A fine spray or mister can be added if the media dries. Germination occurs in 10-20 days.
When shoots appear, remove covering and move the flat to a brightly lit but cool room to continue to grow. Continue to grow cool. Separate seedlings into larger containers after two sets of leaves appear. Begin to feed with diluted plant food.

In the Garden
Place transplants 6 to 10 in. apart in a well-drained and fertile soil location. The best location is an area that receives morning sun. Adding granular or time-release nutrition to the soil is encouraged, especially for trailing pansies as this increases their vigor and number of blooms.
Offer plenty of water at planting and during their adjustment period to help establish roots and minimize stress. Mulching can help retain moisture and reduce any weeds that may compete with your plants.
Pansies planted in the spring will enjoy the warm days and cool nights of the spring season. Most V. wittrockiana will begin to decline and stop flowering as nighttime temperatures rise in the summer. But they can be enjoyed again with fall plantings adding color late in the season.  For more information on this year's featured plants, visit the National Garden Bureau. www.ngb.org.
Source: Information from the National Garden Bureau, written by PanAmerican Seeds, http://www.panamseed.com/.

Your Suggestions are Welcome!
Is there a lawn and gardening topic you would like to learn more about? Sarah Browning is an Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension and can be contacted by phone 402 441-7180, by mail at 444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln, NE 68528: or by e-mail sarah.browning@unl.edu.