These tips ensure success with the season's favorite flower.
Pick the Best Pansies
Inspect the root systems before buying. The pansy on the right has barely enough root mass to hold the soil together. The plant in the middle is perfect, while the one on the left is becoming overgrown.

Even though these tough-as-nails annuals can withstand numerous seasonal challenges, it's important to purchase the best plants and get them off to a good start. Here's what you need to know to choose pansies wisely and plant them carefully.

Look for compact plants with hearty, green foliage. Young transplants should be bushy; avoid those with weak, overgrown stems or yellowed leaves. Foliage should fill out the container but not tower above it.

Check out the roots; turn the container on its side, and hold the foliage in one hand. Carefully remove the pot, and rest the root ball gently in your palm. The perfect pansy's root system keeps the potting medium neatly together but isn't a thick, tangled mass. If the soil crumbles and falls apart, the plant doesn't have enough roots to make the transition from pot to garden.

Wait to plant until evening temperatures produce a nip in the air and summer's heat dissipates from the soil. Planting while it's warm forces them into horticultural overdrive; they quickly become lanky, weak, and susceptible to insect damage. Plant pansies with a granular time-release fertilizer. After six to eight weeks, supplement monthly with liquid food. Deadhead (remove old flowers) and pinch off tall and spindly foliage.

Place pansies in a well-drained area that gets at least four hours of direct sunlight. They're content in containers too. Keep soil moist but not soggy. Once established, they are less dependent on supplemental watering.

Pansies are undemanding annuals that offer fabulous color from start to finish. The secrets to success are being a smart consumer, choosing the perfect plants, and understanding their needs.

"Pick the Best Pansies" is from the October 2002 issue of Southern Living.