Winter Pansies

Fill your landscape with winter pansies to paint your yard with dazzling color through the garden’s quiet season.
'Primrose' Pansy

'Primrose' Pansy

Spring Matrix 'Primrose' pansy from PanAmerican Seed.

It’s tough to beat winter pansies for adding splashes and ribbons of joyful hues to a seasonally-quiet color palette. Pansies earn their keep in winter landscapes in Zones 6 and higher, tossing open cheerful blooms as temperatures march steadily downward. Caring for winter pansies differs slightly from tending plants in spring or early fall.

For winter pansies, ideal temperatures to promote steady growth and flowering fall between 40º F and 60º F. But these good-natured winter annuals can survive cold snaps where temps dip into the single digits for a few hours. Winter pansies boast rugged constitutions, freezing solid and rebounding with strong growth when warm weather returns.

It’s vital to time planting right with winter pansies. For ideal growth, pansies need soil temperatures between 45º F and 65º F. When soil temperatures drop below 45º F, pansy roots shut down, which means above-ground growth and flowering grinds to a halt. Plants remain alive and can rebound when soil temperatures shift. Aim to get winter pansies in the ground a few weeks before soil temperatures hit that 45º F mark.

Check with your local cooperative extension office to discover planting windows for your area. Search online to locate soil temperature readings or get a soil thermometer and take measurements in your yard. Remember to insert the thermometer 6 inches deep to approximate root-zone depth.

When shopping for pansies, remember that larger containers yield more established root systems, which support a quicker transplanting transition with less shock. In colder zones, purchase the largest pansies you can afford to ensure you’ll have substantial color to savor before the coldest air arrives. Even in warmer regions, landscapers prefer to plant 4-inch pansies. Once low temperatures arrive and linger during winter’s short days, plants won’t grow as quickly as during spring or early fall. You won’t regret starting with larger plants, especially in colder regions.

Winter Pansies

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In Zones 7 and 8, plant pansies en masse for traffic-stopping landscape color. In Zones 5 and 6, consider local weather as you determine planting options for winter pansies. If your winters typically serve a prolonged period of temps in the teens, you might want to tuck pansies into containers on porches or near your home, where they’re easy to protect with a frost blanket on the coldest nights.

Well-drained soils are vital for winter pansies to survive. If soils are heavy and retain water, once soil temps dip to 45º F and pansy roots shut down, plants rot if they’re sitting in waterlogged soil. That’s one reason why pansies in containers, even in a protected location in a wintry Zone 5 setting, can rebound in spring. Raised beds work wonderfully for winter pansies in the landscape. Also, don’t forget to mulch soil. Adding two to three inches of mulch helps moderate soil temperatures and slow the inevitable cool-down.

The other key to growing great winter pansies is fertilizer. Avoid slow-release nitrogen that’s ammonia-based. Instead, opt for a liquid fertilizer. Follow label instructions to determine feeding rates. To keep winter pansies healthy, remove faded flowers faithfully, along with any that become frost-damaged. 

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