Controlling Weeds in Pansy Beds

— Written By Peg Godwin and last updated by
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It is that time of year when we are planting for winter color. Pansies and violas are the most common bedding plants used to enhance winter landscape beds. The beautiful color can last into spring, but frequently plants are over taken with winter annual weeds.

Dr. Joe Neal, NCSU professor and Extension Specialist offers this primer on preventing weeds from taking over your winter color beds. Weeds including henbit, chickweed and annual bluegrass can turn an area into a mess. A weed management plan should include site preparation to control perennial weeds, the addition of mulch to control annual weeds, sanitation to prevent weed introduction as well as appropriate strategies to remove weeds.

The most important weed management tasks are done before planting. Step one is to find out what perennial weeds are present and to control them. Identify the weeds and determine the best way to remove them so you can start with a clean area before planting. Chopping or tilling a bed containing perennial weeds like mugwort or Florida betony can quickly increase the abundance of the weeds. Tools like tillers can also spread weed seeds from one bed to another. Rinsing or washing equipment between different areas is a good practice. Also, be sure organic materials incorporated into the soil are weed free before using them.

The next step is to scout the surrounding area to locate and remove unwanted plants that will soon produce seeds. Weed seeds will often find plenty of open sunny soil when small transplants are initially planted.

Mulch is an essential part of a weed management program. Covering the bare soil deprives weed seedlings of much needed light. The choice of materials for mulch is important according to research. A fine-textured organic mulch is preferred for annual flower beds and does control most annual weeds that come from seed. The seeds of many winter annuals will readily germinate and establish well if spread on top of mulch. Perennial weeds including quackgrass, Bermudagrass, goldenrod, nutsedge and mugwort are not controlled by mulch.

Pine straw mulch is not a good choice for pansy plantings. It has been shown to reduce pansy flower numbers in the spring as well as reduced growth. Use a fine-textured organic mulch instead.

For information on the use of preemergence herbicides to control weeds in pansy beds look for the NCSU publication found at https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/weed-control-in-pansy-beds.

Despite your best efforts using sanitation, mulches and herbicides, some weeds will emerge. Plan some time to do the hand weeding that will be required. Remember to remove weeds when they are young to reduce competition with the transplants and to reduce soil disturbance. Removing weeds on a regular cycle will also prevent the spread of weeds like oxalis that can have multiple generations.

Do you want to look at a weedy pansy bed next spring? Start clean and prevent weeds from establishing and spreading so winter color beds can be a pleasing component of the winter and spring landscape.