- How to grow pansies
- Pansies are a great cool-weather flower
- Are pansies an annual or a perennial?
- Flowers all spring
- How to grow your best pansies
- How to bring your pansies back after winter
- Find a pansy for your garden
- Summertime Pansies: Will Pansies Bloom In The Heat Of Summer
- Will Pansies Bloom in the Heat?
- Are Summertime Pansies Possible?
- How to Revive Pansies
- Pansy Pick-me-up Tricks for Winter
- Viola, Perennial
How to grow pansies
Pansies are a great cool-weather flower
Don’t pass by those colorful displays of pansies at the garden center! Fill your cart with a flat or two of these cool-weather beauties and head for the garden. I planted the ones in the photo above in fall — that’s a good way to get the most for your dollar. Why? They love cool weather, so in warm-winter zones will bloom through the winter months. And even in zone 5, although they stop blooming with a hard frost, they’ll start blooming again in spring. That’s two seasons for the price of one! Keep reading to learn more great tips on how to grow pansies.
Are pansies an annual or a perennial?
Pansies are short-lived perennials. Have you ever planted a six-pack or two for some spring color and noticed later in the season that they’ve disappeared? I already mentioned that they love cool weather, but they don’t do well in the heat. In fact, if summers are cool where you live, your plants could live for two or three years.
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Flowers all spring
The great thing about pansies is the multitude of flowers they produce. The largest flowers are up to 4 inches wide, while others are much smaller, closer to an inch. While both types bear the botanical moniker Viola, the large-flowered ones are usually called “pansies” and the smaller ones are often called “johnny jump-ups” or “violas.”
Confused about the difference? Don’t feel bad, there’s been so much crossing and criss-crossing that they’re all complex hybrids now. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll just call them all pansies here! No matter what size the flower is, there’s a huge range of colors and patterns available. Take a look at slideshow at the bottom of the article for some ideas of what you might find at your favorite garden center or available to order online.
How to grow your best pansies
Pansies are the perfect choice for anyone who wants some garden color during the cool-weather months. They don’t need a lot of maintenance to flower prolifically. I’ll give you the basics for growing them here and tell you how I overwintered some in our zone 5 test garden below.
Most pansies come in 4- or 6-packs, and they don’t get very wide even after you plant them in the ground. So to get that gorgeous mass-planting look, don’t spread them out. Plant them closely like I’m ready to do in the photo above. See how tightly they’re spaced? These pansies are just a little farther apart — 2 to 4 inches apart on center at the most — than they were in the pack.
Ideal soil and light conditions for pansies
Whether you’re planting pansies in spring or fall, they can grow in a variety of conditions from full sun to part shade.
- You’ll get the best flowering with lots of morning sun but will probably need to water them a little more, especially if spring is on the dry side.
- These plants prefer consistent moisture.
- Pansies growing in part shade will still flower, and may not need as much water.
- Well-drained soil will keep the roots from rotting.
Fertilize pansies for more flowers
To keep a steady supply of these beautiful flowers, feed your pansies regularly. Use a balanced formula such as a 10-10-10 or one with slightly higher nitrogen (that’s the first number). If you’re growing pansies over winter, apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer to help feed the plants during warm spells.
Well-fed pansies produce a lot of flowers so remember to deadhead. This helps plants rebloom more quickly and keeps plants looking tidy. It’s easy to do, you just have to make sure you’re cutting off the right stem. I don’t know how many times I’ve snipped off one in full bloom because of all the stems among the foliage.
Pansy deadheading tip
Finally, I figured out how to make sure I’m snipping the right thing. I grab the spent bloom between two fingers. Then see how I’ve placed the pruners in the photo above? Follow the stem down to where it connects with the leaves and snip it off.
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How to fix leggy pansies
As the season wears on, whether it’s the pansies you planted earlier or ones for sale at the garden center, you’ll probably notice the plants getting leggy It’s pretty common to see them looking like the one above left. Go ahead and cut them back by as much as one-third. Just be sure to leave some foliage to nourish the plant. If it’s late in the season or if the pansies aren’t looking too vigorous, you’re better off just pulling them out of the garden or passing on the bargain.
Two reasons why your pansies may be getting leggy:
1. Warm nights
As it gets closer to summer, nights get warmer, which causes pansies to stretch.
2. Lack of fertilizer
Keep pansies fed — all that flowering takes a lot of energy.
How to bring your pansies back after winter
Don’t give up on your pansies when winter sets in. They naturally survive cold much better than they do heat. In California, the South and Southwest, pansies are a staple of winter gardening since the temperatures usually stay mild for much of the season. The Midwest and Northeast may not get to enjoy flowering pansies through the winter, but the plants can survive to flower again in early spring. Here are a few tips:
Snow helps insulate pansies over winter
Snow cover is a great insulator, so if you live where you can count on snow, the pansies should do just fine. But snow cover isn’t reliable for us, and our test garden sits on low ground. I waited until after a hard frost so critters wouldn’t make themselves at home and added another few inches of mulch on top of the plants (for a total of about 6 in.). In the photo above you can see how I pulled back the mulch in late February so plants wouldn’t rot. Seven weeks later we had beautiful spring flowers! The mid- to small-flowered types bounce back the quickest even after a hard winter. The large-flowered types will usually show up about two weeks later.
Mulch helps protect pansies
Fall-planted pansies overwinter better, come back more quickly in spring and last longer into summer with 2 to 3 in. of mulch after planting. Where winters get below 0 degrees F, mulch keeps soil temperatures even and prevents the freezing and thawing that heaves them out of the ground. In the South, mulch conserves moisture, keeps weeds down and helps your pansies look good.
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Find a pansy for your garden
Pansy faces can be bicolored, whiskered (with streaks radiating from the center, sometimes called “cat-faced”), blotched or clear.
In addition to quite a few color options, there’s a range of flower sizes with pansies.
- The big 4- to 5-in. ones add great early spring color to a perennial border.
- Small to midsized pansy flowers, from 1 to 3 in., do well in rainy climates, such as the Pacific Northwest. This size flower doesn’t fold over on itself like the bigger ones do, so holds up better to fog and rain.
Check out some examples of what you’ll find at your garden center or available online in the gallery below.
Summertime Pansies: Will Pansies Bloom In The Heat Of Summer
Can you grow pansies in summer? This is a great question for anyone who prizes these cheerful and colorful flowers. There is a reason you see them as one of the first annuals for sale in the spring and then again in the fall. They do best in cooler weather, but how and when you enjoy them depends on the variety and your climate.
Will Pansies Bloom in the Heat?
Pansies are a classic cool weather flower, used in most places as an annual. In some warmer and moderate climates, like parts of California, gardeners can grow them year round. In areas where the climate is more extreme with the seasons, it is more typical to grow them during the cooler parts of the year.
These flowers generally do not want to bloom in the heat. For instance, if your garden is in the Midwest, you will probably put annual pansies in beds or containers in early spring. They will bloom well until the heat of summer, at which time the plants will wilt and sag and stop producing flowers. But keep them going and you will get blooms again in the fall as temperatures cool off again.
Are Summertime Pansies Possible?
Whether or not you can get summertime pansies in your garden depends on where you live, your climate, and the variety you choose. There are some varieties that have been developed for pansy heat tolerance, although they still aren’t crazy about high temperatures.
Look for Majestic Giant, Springtime, Maxim, Padparadja, and Matrix, Dynamite, and Universal varieties.
Even with these more heat tolerant pansies, if you have temperatures that regularly go over 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius) in the summer, they may struggle and wilt a little. Give them partial shade, fertilize lightly, and deadhead throughout the hot months to maximize blooms.
If you live in colder climates, with the warmest temperatures of the year at and below 70 degrees, summer will be the best time to grow pansies and get them to bloom. And if you live in hotter climates, it is best to grow pansies in the winter.
The first annual flowers only bloomed all summer if deadheaded.
Annual flowers have been popular since the mid-nineteenth century when gardeners discovered that these plants had the ability to bloom all summer… if they removed their faded flowers regularly, a technique called deadheading. If they let the annual “go to seed”, its flowering ended quickly, but if they cut the fading flowers off, it would continue to bloom until September.
That’s because, when a wild plant begins to produce seeds, this usually stimulates the production of a hormone that tells the plant to stop blooming and to instead devote its energy to seed production. However, if you remove the flowers before this signal is sent, the hormones that stimulate flowering continue to circulate. That’s why for generations gardeners have grown accustomed to deadheading their annuals in order to ensure bloom all summer.
But today’s annuals are not the same as those cultivated in 1850. To start with, many new annuals have been added to the home gardener’s palette since then, including a few that are naturally long- or even everblooming, such as wax begonias (Begonia x semperflorens).
But above all, most of the old-fashioned annuals have changed considerably over the years: in color, size, shape… and habit. By always harvesting the seeds of the most floriferous plants, generation after generation, gardeners have slowly developed varieties that rebloom whether they are deadheaded or not. Thus the majority of modern annuals – zinnias, cosmos, pelargoniums, etc. – flower abundantly all summer and few need any deadheading.
And the situation continues to improve yearly.
‘Matrix’ is a heat-tolerant pansy that can bloom all summer.
For example, have you tried one of the modern strains of pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) lately, such as those in the series Panola, Matrix, Dynamite or Universal Plus? Where older lines stopped blooming when it became too hot only to to resume in the autumn, with the return of cooler weather, modern lines continue to flourish, often right up until frost, not slowing down in the least.
Petunia Supertunia® Pretty Much Picasso® is pretty much everblooming! Source: Proven Winners
Another plant that has recently switched to the non-stop-bloom-without-deadheading category is the petunia (Petunia × atkinsiana). And that’s excellent news, because removing faded flowers from petunias, with their disgustingly sticky stems, was never much fun. Self-cleaning petunias that bloom continuously without deadheading have been on the market for about five years now and are beginning to push the old varieties out the door.
You’ll discover that seed companies are gradually replacing older varieties well known to gardeners with look-alikes that bear the old name plus “Improved” or “Select.” Or sometimes, they don’t even change the name, but simply sell the improved variety under the original name. Yesterday’s Supertunia® line, for example, needed a serious clean-up in mid-summer, but the Supertunias you find on the market today just go on and on.
Before buying a petunia, always ask the seller for a variety that doesn’t need deadheading.
And until only a few years ago, I still used to advise gardeners to cut back sweet alyssums (Lobularia maritima) and edging lobelias (Lobelia erinus) back by half in the middle of summer, just as their flowering started to weaken. This reboots their “time to flower” hormones, stimulating them to bloom anew and ensuring flowers for rest of the summer. But since 2009, I no longer give the same advice.
Sweet alyssum ‘Blushing Princess’ blooms from April to December without any pruning.
That was the year when the first hybrid sweet alyssums (Lobularia x hybrida) reached the market. These plants (found in such series as Knight, Princess and Stream) bloom faithfully all summer and beyond, almost until Christmas, without any deadheading or pruning. That’s because these new sweet alyssums are sterile and, since they produce no seeds, don’t receive the usual hormonal signal telling them to stop flowering, Instead they devote their energy to flower production. Thus they bloom on and on until frost kills them.
Hybrid edging lobelia ‘Techno Heat Electric Blue’
At about the same time, the first hybrid edging lobelias (Lobelia x hybrida), also sterile, came on the market, including the series ‘Lucia’, ‘Laguna’, ‘Techno Heat’ and ‘Waterfall’. And again, since they don’t receive the hormonal signal to stop blooming, they also flower all summer.
Opium poppies won’t rebloom whether you deadhead them or not.
There are still some exceptions to the rule that modern annual bloom all summer even without deadheading. Annual poppies, like the Shirley poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and the opium poppy (P. somniferum) flower only once, at the beginning of summer, whether you deadhead them or not. And larkspurs (Consolida spp.) do the same. But these are exceptions to the rule. Today, it is clear that the vast majority of annual garden bloom will all summer, even if you don’t remove their fading flowers.
Hard to Convince Workhorse Gardeners
The workhorse gardeners like to remove spent flowers, even when it gives not results.
Obviously I’ll never convince the hardest-working gardeners to stop deadheading their annuals: they are so convinced that gardening is hard work, they simply never believe me when I suggest it doesn’t have to be so.
However, if you have just a few laidback gardener genes flowing in your veins, try the following technique this summer just to see. Plant your annuals, then sit back and watch them grow and bloom, getting up only to water them in times of drought. You’ll be amazed to see most of them bloom all through the summer without any effort on your part!
How to Revive Pansies
Pansies are cool weather flowers. In areas where winter temperatures do not drop much below 20 degrees F, pansies will live through the winter. For this reason, some people think of pansies as perennials; however, it is necessary to grow new plants each year. Start pansies indoors early and set them out as early as the ground can be worked in the spring. Or plant pansy seeds in early autumn for late fall and early spring flowers. No matter when you plant pansies, most varieties do not tolerate summer heat well. If your pansies wilt and become distressed during the summer heat, you can revive them for more flowers in the fall.
Remove the flower heads as soon as they fade. This keeps the pansy from using energy to make seeds so it can focus on producing more flowers and a strong root system. Trim back leggy plants to make them more compact. This also encourages new flowers and roots.
Move container grown pansies into the shade as the seasonal temperature rises. Stress from summer heat causes pansies to decline rapidly. Water them frequently, and do not allow the soil to dry out. Besides meeting their need for moist soil, the water lowers the soil temperature. Use mulch to keep the soil cool and help retain moisture.
Water pansies throughout the summer, whether they are in the ground or in containers, but temporarily stop fertilizing them during the hot summer. Begin feeding your pansies again with a balanced water soluble organic fertilizer in late summer. Use a diluted solution once or twice a week at first to get them started. As the seasonal temperatures continue to cool, the new feeding regimen will revive your pansies, and they will begin to produce flowers two to three weeks later.
Plant pansy seeds in the ground in September, and they will bloom in November and perhaps into December. Do not pull up these plants when they succumb to the cold. Instead trim them back and cover them with mulch. As soon as the weather begins to warm up the following spring, pull back the mulch. Fall planted pansies will revive as soon as they get some warm spring sun. They will begin to bloom again in March or April, depending on your location.
Pansy Pick-me-up Tricks for Winter
Winter takes a toll on your looks. One peek at your pansies will show you they’re in the same boat. Most likely, they’re too wet, too dry, or suffering from cold nights, harsh winds, or maybe just a little neglect. Don’t despair; it happens to even the best. A few minutes of attention, and they’ll be back and blooming before you know it.
A Manicure and a Marvelous Meal
It’s true; nothing feels better than a little pampering. If you’re a pansy plant, being covered with spent flowers is like being in need of a good haircut. You just want it all to go away. Remove old blooms and their stems because they sap energy from the new growth.
Next, take off those damaged, curled up leaves. They have to feel just plain yucky to your plant. Snip them off, and things will get better. Small scissors are the perfect tool for trimming foliage.
Finally, after all this preening and clipping, your pansies may be looking thin and hungry. Nourishment is in order. Mix up a batch of water-soluble, liquid fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food 15-30-15, and give them a substantial meal. Moisten the soil with plain water first, and then pour on the fertilizer.
A truth about gardening and dessert: Fertilizer and chocolate have nothing in common. While one chocolate is good, two are infinitely better. This is not the case with liquid fertilizer and pansies. Mix it according to label directions; a stronger solution does not make plants bloom faster. In fact, the salts in the fertilizer damage the plants when mixed improperly.
All Dressed Up
Now that your pansies are sitting pretty, remember their basic needs.
- Give them a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight.
- Feed them with a water-soluble, liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks.
- Remove old flowers.
- Water plants prior to a hard freeze. This is especially true for pansies in pots.
- Provide a light pine straw cover to reduce damage during a hard freeze.
“Pansy Pick-me-up Tricks for Winter” is from the January 2006 issue of Southern Living.
Pansies are short-lived perennials that are grown as annuals. They were developed in the late 19th century when the small-flowered heartsease (Viola tricolor) was crossed with other species. It’s hard to imagine that these appealing little flowers with their happy ‘faces’ are the ancestors of modern plants. Today’s pansies have larger flowers, and they come in an amazing range of vibrant colours and bicolours, with petals that are often striped or blotched. The first blotch kinds appeared in 1830, and have marks on the lower petals to guide pollinating insects.
Common name: Pansy
Botanic name: Viola x wittrockiana
The common name pansy is from the French pensee, meaning ‘thought’. The species name, wittrockiana, commemorates Swedish botanist Professor Veit Brecher Wittrock (1839 – 1914), who wrote a history of the cultivated pansy.
Description: A group of hybrid perennials used as annuals. Plants grow slowly to about 20cm (8″) high. The flowers may reach up to 10cm (4″) across. They are available in plain colours including white, yellow, mauve, blue, purple and almost black, as well as varieties with contrasting edging colours, stripes and conspicuous blotches.
tubs and containers
quick infusion of colour in drab gardens
temporary fill-in while permanent plants are becoming established
planting amongst spring flowering bulbs
Pansies can be grown in the garden or in pots, hanging baskets or window boxes.
They like a sunny spot through the cooler months but in warm areas (Sydney to Perth and north) light shade in spring and early summer will mean they keep flowering longer.
Prepare the soil in garden beds well before planting by digging in compost and well-rotted manure. The roots should not come into contact with concentrated fertiliser.
Liquid feed regularly and pick the flowers, or deadhead them, regularly to keep plants blooming.
Getting started: Pansies are sold in punnets (approx. $4.79 for about 10 seedlings) or as potted bloomers (approx. $3.99 for 100mm or 4″ pots). They are readily available at nurseries and garden centres. Plant seedlings in autumn for winter and spring flowers. In cooler climates delay planting until late winter, for a summer flower display.
Grow perennial violas in full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours each day) or partial shade. Most varieties can grow quite well in shade, but don’t bloom as profusely. Water perennial violas enough to keep the soil moist, but not wet. Though these spring-flowering plants can tolerate some drought, they look better — and bloom better — with regular watering.
If you have average or good soil, you don’t need to fertilize perennial violas. You can fertilize if you wish, however — using any general-purpose garden fertilizer. Follow the directions on the product packaging. Topdressing your soil with compost each year will also help perennial violas to thrive.
Because violas are cool-weather-loving early-spring flowers, a layer of mulch over the soil around them can keep them happy and blooming later into the spring or early summer. A 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch helps keep the soil cool and moist.
Perennial violas don’t require regular pruning, but you can cut the plants back in summer once hot weather sets in and stresses the plants.