How to Grow and Care for Pansies
Pretty, perky pansy plants are one of the easiest flowers to grow. They bring bold color during cool seasons, unfurling blooms in a rainbow of hues. Learn how to coax the best show from your pansies.
Pansies win the flower popularity contest, hands-down. They're the perfect plants for beginning gardeners, rewarding the simplest efforts with a long season of colorful blooms.
Whether you choose red pansy for autumn, white pansy for winter, black pansy for drama, yellow pansy for fragrance or a host of other colorful pansy varieties, there's definitely a pansy to suit your taste. This is one plant that has something for everyone.
Botanically, pansies are a type of viola plant. Viola x wittrockiana is the scientific name, but when you're shopping at the garden center, all you need to ask for is pansies.
These pretty bloomers are actually short-lived perennials, but most gardeners treat them as annuals, planting pansies in pots or staging dynamic shows in landscape beds. Learn what you need to know about growing pansies.
Best Season for Pansies
Pansies are a go-to plant for cool-season color in Zones 7 to 10. In these mild-winter areas, pansies survive winter without missing a blooming beat. Gardeners in colder regions (Zones 4-6) can also tend a crop of colorful pansy flowers over winter. Plants may go dormant during periods of coldest weather, but can perk up in early spring as air temperature rises.
Viola plants tend to be more heat tolerant than pansies, but plant breeders are working to develop new varieties with heat tolerance that can deliver summer blooms. Anytime Pansiola is the result of a cross between a pansy and a viola, a pansy cousin that's heat tolerant. Pansiola plants open large, pansy-type flowers on trailing plants, making them a great choice for hanging baskets and pots.
Planting Advice for Pansies
Pansies boast one of the best low-maintenance personalities. Give them the conditions they need and they'll thrive.
Light: Pansies do best with about six hours of sun daily. In warmest regions (Zone 7 and warmer), protect plants from full sun during the hottest part of the day. Too much heat can slow flower formation. New trailing pansy varieties, like Cool Wave, need a minimum of six hours of full sun to flower best. For winter plantings, consider adding pansies beneath trees that have dropped their leaves for the season, allowing sunlight to reach soil.
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Soil: Pansies thrive in soil that's rich in organic matter. Mix finished compost, leaf mold, bark fines or other locally available organic matter into planting beds. For pots, choose a bagged commercial planting mix labeled for use in containers.
Fertilizer: A slow-release fertilizer mixed into soil at planting time works well with pansies. In warmer zones, avoid giving pansies high-nitrogen fertilizer during September to keep plants from stretching. Most commercial soil mixes for pots contain slow-release fertilizer. For pansies in pots, apply liquid plant food roughly four weeks after planting and any time you cut plants back to encourage more flowers.
Pests: For the most part, pansies are pest-free. Occasionally aphids may attack in early spring. An insecticidal soap spray removes those easily. Slugs are the biggest potential threat to pansies, especially early and late in the growing season. Use slug bait (look for earth-friendly types) or traps to deal with slugs or snails.
Shopping for Pansies
Select compact, not leggy, plants with deep green leaves. Before you buy, pop the plant out of its container to check the roots. Healthy roots are white, and you should be able to see a balanced ratio of roots and soil. Plants that are leggy or root-bound have a hard time getting established.
Pansy Plant With Roots
For the best results in terms of color, cold hardiness and overall growth, buy pansies like landscapers do, picking up larger cell packs or 3- or 4-inch pots. These plants have bigger root balls, which means plants will take off more quickly in beds and containers. Check roots to make sure they’re healthy like this—having many white, fibrous roots on the outside of the root ball. The best time to plant pansies is when leaves on trees first start to change color. Soil temps should be between 45 and 65 F.
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Shop like landscapers do and grab pansies in larger cell packs or 3- to 4-inch pots. These plants have bigger root systems, which means they establish and take off quicker after planting. For fall planting, you definitely want larger plants (4-inch pots). Once cold air arrives for winter, your pansies won't grow as much, so starting with bigger plants means your pansies can fill out before they hit their midwinter slowdown.
You can start pansies from seed — it takes about 10 to 12 weeks from seed to plant. Southern gardeners should sow seeds in beds outdoors in fall. Northern gardeners should start seeds indoors in early spring or try winter sowing techniques. Follow directions on the seed packet in terms of sowing depth and thinning.
Secrets to Success With Pansies
Pansies With Ornamental Grass
A spreading-type pansy formula mix provides a colorful edging for planting beds. Pair it with a leatherleaf sedge for a season-long show that keeps going strong even after cold temps arrive. For pansies in beds, fertilize at planting time with water-soluble plant food to give plants a solid start. In warmer zones, avoid giving pansies a high-nitrogen fertilizer during September to avoid causing plants to stretch.
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- Temperature matters. Pansies grow best with nights in the 40s and days in the 60s. Warmer temperatures lead to leggy, floppy stem growth and fewer flowers, which is why it's a good idea to pull and compost pansies as summer heat arrives.
- Plant early. For success with winter pansies, get plants into the ground as early as possible in fall, at least six weeks before your first frost date. If soil temperature is too cold (below 45 degrees) at planting time, roots will be inactive, and you'll wind up with stunted plants and few flowers. In these conditions, pansies are less likely to survive winter. Small flowered pansies generally do better for winter displays than large-flowered varieties. When planting pansies in spring, tuck them into soil up to a month before your area's last frost date.
- Keep 'em clean. Remove spent flowers regularly (every few days) to spur more to form. If left to set seed, pansy plants quickly die. It's okay to give plants a light trim with scissors to remove spent flowers quickly.
- Plan ahead. To create an eye-catching landscape planting, sketch your design on paper. Plan on 6 inches between plants for most pansies, although trailing types (Pentifall, Wonderfall, Cool Wave) may need greater spacing. For a can't-miss color combination, look for what's known as a "formula mix," a custom color blend created by plant breeders (shown above). Some mixes feature pastel shades, while others highlight bold hues. It's not hard to find one that appeals to you. The advantage to using a formula mix is that the pansies grow at the same pace and to a similar height, making it easy to design stunning beds.
How to Use Pansies
Celebrate pansies' edible traits by tucking them into pots along with herbs or leaf lettuces. Pansy flowers are entirely edible, as long as they haven't been treated with any chemicals. They make a great addition to cakes, tea sandwiches or salads for spring gatherings. Or freeze a blossom in an ice cube for a pretty sipper.
Try planting pansies in containers with grasses or other spring bloomers, like flowering stock, primrose, sweet alyssum or nemesia. Or use them to edge walkways or planting beds. Pansies pair well with spring bulbs, forming a colorful ground cover that can help disguise fading bulb leaves.