Pansies are vigorous, fast-growing, colorful flowers that are a great choice for early and late-season containers or garden beds. The flowers have almost heart-shaped, overlapping petals in bright colors or bi-colors, often with face-like center markings. Breeding has produced pansies that are better able to stand up to the cold, but there hasn’t been much luck producing more heat-tolerant varieties. Technically, pansies are short-season perennials, but they are usually grown as annuals. In zones with mild winters, they can be grown as biennials. In the garden, they complement spring-flowering bulbs, blooming as the bulb foliage begins to fade. Most pansies don't get very tall and if they do, they will flop or cascade a bit.
|Botanical Name||Viola x wittrockiana|
|Plant Type||Perennial, annual, biennial|
|Mature Size||4-8 in. tall, 4-6 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer, fall|
|Flower Color||White, yellow, purple, blue, red, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||7-11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Asia|
When buying nursery plants, choose pansies that are stocky, bushy, and have plenty of buds. Avoid plants full of open blooms, because they will be stressed to near exhaustion from working so hard in a tiny pot.
Since you can plant pansies in the early spring or fall, you'll find established pansy plants available in the garden center from August through March or April of the following year, depending on your climate. In the garden bed, plant pansies at the same depth as their nursery pot in well-draining soil. Leave 6 to 12 inches between each plant to give them room to grow and breathe. For containers, avoid crowding the plants so consider three to four pansy plants in a 10 to 12-inch pot.
Caring for Pansies
If you can allow your pansy plants to remain in your garden and rest during the hottest months, they will probably begin blooming again in the fall. Shearing the plants back when they start to set seed will encourage new growth. Deadheading (cutting dead flowers off a healthy plant) will encourage more blooms. In warmer zones, pansies may look a little tired in the peak of winter, but they'll perform beautifully when temperatures rise a bit, looking lovely in late winter and early spring.
Pansies will bloom best in full sun to partial shade, but they will stay fresh-looking and keep blooming longer if grown in partial shade.
Although pansies are not fussy plants, they will grow best in loose, rich soil with a slightly acidic pH (6.0 to 6.2). They are heavy feeders, so amend your soil with mushroom compost to give them a good start.
Regular watering will help them hang on a bit longer as weather warms, but don’t expect your pansies to last all season. Pansies prefer moist—but not soggy—soil. Use containers with drainage holes or if planting in the ground, make certain the soil drains well.
Temperature and Humidity
Pansies do not like heat or high humidity at all and will begin to decline as the days warm up.
As with any long-blooming annual plant, pansies appreciate some fertilizer. However, too much food will just make them leggy. They respond well to monthly foliar feeding. Use a balanced fertilizer according to the product label's directions.
Types of Pansies
If you like the variety of colors but still want a sense of cohesion, select plants from the same series. They’ll be similar in size and markings, regardless of the color.
- Bolero Series: Large, ruffled, semi-double flowers; does well in both spring and fall
- Bingo Series: Large-flowered in 14 colors from pale blue to burgundy; blooms earlier than the popular Majestic Giants series
- Cool Wave Series: Fast-growing with vigorous bloom; plants have a spreading habit, like Cool Wave petunias. Good "spillers" for containers and hanging baskets
- Freefall Series: Day-neutral, trailing plants; great for containers
- Joker Series: Very pronounced faces; bicolored in complementary colors
- Princess Series: Compact growth habit and dainty flowers; monochromatic tones from cream to deep purple, with yellow centers
How to Grow Pansies From Seed
If the plants are not dead-headed, pansies will drop seeds that readily take root. In colder climates, you may find that the next spring brings a large cluster of volunteer seedlings where the old plants were located.
However, most pansies are F1 hybrids, and the seeds they produce will not grow into plants that resemble the parents. You will likely get flowers that have reverted to one of the genetic parents of the hybrid. This is not always a bad thing, as you may well appreciate the surprising result. For example, a patch of pansies planted one year may self-seed into a group of volunteer Johnny-jump-ups (Viola tricolor) the next year, since V. tricolor is one of the parents of many hybrid pansies.
The best way to grow hybrid pansies from seed is to buy commercial F1 hybrid seeds, which are created by hand-pollinating one species with the pollen from another species.
Stratifying pansy seeds for two weeks helps improve germination. Then take the following steps:
- Cast the tiny seeds over a tray of seed-starting mix and moisten the tray.
- Pansies need dark to germinate. Keep the tray covered with black plastic until the seeds germinate (about two weeks).
- Remove the plastic and transfer the tray to a bright location.
- Keep the soil moist.
- When the seedlings are a few inches tall and have at least two sets of true leaves, transplant them into small pots and keep them growing in a bright location until it's time to transplant them outdoors.
- Harden off seedlings for two weeks, gradually introducing them to outside conditions before planting outside.
Potting and Repotting Pansies
With their upright habit and pretty colors, pansies are very popular flowers to plant in containers and window boxes. They don't like soggy roots, so make sure to use a relatively loose, well-draining potting mix and a container with good drainage. A slow-release fertilizer added to the potting mix is a good idea. Pinch off leggy growth and deadhead regularly, and feed the plants with a balanced liquid fertilizer every few weeks.
Repotting pansies should be done every two or so years when you notice they've outgrown the container. Repot them in the early spring so they can settle in while it's still cool. It's very easy to repot them. Simply place good-quality, well-draining potting soil in a larger container of any material and be sure to place the repotted pansies in the sun.
Though some varieties of pansy, such as the ice pansy, are bred to withstand light snows, expect the pansies to die away in winter. If you didn't deadhead the pansies in the garden, you might be surprised with volunteer seeds sprouting up when spring weather arrives.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Slugs can be a nuisance during wet seasons, especially if growing in partial shade. Use a slug bait or thin out the planting, so it’s less damp. Occasionally, aphids will attack pansies. Insecticidal soap should remove them. Use caution if you prefer to kill aphids with a strong blast of water since pansies are rather small and delicate.
Pansies are prone to many health problems caused by fungi, including gray mold, root and crown rot, powdery mildew, anthracnose, and leaf spots. Fungicides should protect your pansies.
How to Get Pansies to Bloom
Pansies are such vigorous growers that they will almost always bloom well, even if their soil is lacking. However, you can encourage bigger blooms and more growth by applying a balanced liquid fertilizer once a month and switching to a bonemeal fertilizer right before the blooming season. Cut away any leggy plants to make room for more bloomers. Deadhead blooms as they die back, again, to make room for more colorful blooms in the late season.
Common Problems With Pansies
The most common issue with pansies is deer. You may have to add deer repellent to your pansies to save them. Besides deer, if you spot these other signs, your pansies may be experiencing other stresses.
The pansies may have root or crown rot, which results in a general droopy nature and possible blackening of the stem near the soil. Avoid overwatering and crowding pansies to eliminate this risk. A plant has little to no chance of recovering from this problem.
Brown, Shriveled Leaves
Check for powdery mildew, especially if you see leaves turning brown and shriveling up during hot, humid weather. Pluck off the affected leaves and make sure the plants have adequate air circulation.
Leaves With Spots
Pansies with leaves that have different types of spots on them could be suffering from any number of fungal problems, such as anthracnose, leaf spot, rust, or scab. Spots can range in color from pale green to tan to brown and purple-black. To relieve any of these issues, make sure you are correctly fertilizing and watering your pansies, as well as promoting good garden hygiene by giving your plants plenty of space for air circulation.
What are alternatives to pansies?
There are a few plants that look very much like pansies. Violas are smaller but much more prolific. Panolas are a cross between violas and pansies; these plants are rather hardy.
Can pansies grow indoors?
Pansies make great container plants, so you might have good luck growing them indoors. Make sure they get ample sunlight and have a pot that drains well.
How long can pansies live?
Though the pansy only grows for one season in most hardiness zones, it will readily send out volunteer seeds, which can pop up again and again in future seasons.
How do you keep pansies bushy?
Cutting back bare stems and deadheading pansies during their growing season will urge them to grow bushier.
Do pansies spread?
Pansies are clump-forming rather than spreading plants.
Viola × Wittrockiana. Missouri Botanical Garden.