The pansy is a favorite garden annual used in a variety of planting situations. They are most commonly grown in containers or in borders where they offer color with their distinctive 'faces' and bi-colored petals. A great plant for beginners, pansies are easy to grow and can be encouraged to bloom continuously by simply removing the spent blooms, a process which is commonly known as deadheading.
For those new to gardening, deadheading is a method of forcing a plant (most commonly with annuals) to produce new buds in an effort to keep the plant from halting its flower production. When a plant's flower has been pollinated, the plant devotes its energy into making viable seed which will then ensure that the plant will be successful at reproduction. Seed production uses energy and resources that the plant would normally use for shoot and flower production. Deadheading steers this energy back into flower production, thus promoting more blooms.
To deadhead a pansy, look for the differences between a flower bud that has not yet opened and for one that is finished or spent. A newly formed flower bud will look tightly furled and fresh looking while a spent flower bud will have a wilted appearance with petals falling off. A spent flower bud that has lost all of its petals and now has a round, ball shaped appearance is the developing seed pod. It is both the spent flower and the developing seed pod that will be removed during the deadheading process.
There are two main methods of deadheading: snipping with scissors or pinching with fingernails. The methods really depend on personal preference but both are effective at getting the job completed. To deadhead using either method, remove the spent flower or seed pod as near the crown of the pansy plant as possible. The crown is where the leaves and stems sprout from the central portion of the plant. The reason in taking the spent bloom so far down is to avoid the somewhat untidy appearance of having stems sticking out between leaves and buds.
After deadheading the pansies, water the plants and apply a small dose of liquid fertilizer to further encourage the formation of new buds. It is not necessary to deadhead everyday but to stick to a schedule of every 2-3 days at the most.
Learning how to deadhead pansies is a great way for beginning gardeners to engage in skills that will be used repeatedly in the garden. Mastering a skill on a plant such as the pansy will only encourage a new gardener to go out and try to grow and care for more difficult plants.