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By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Pansy plants (Viola × wittrockiana) are cheerful, blooming flowers, among the first of the season to offer winter color in many areas. Growing pansies are commonly seen in late fall and early spring in more northern areas of the United States, while in subtropical areas, pansies bloom throughout the winter.
About Pansy Plants
Learning how to grow pansies can guarantee color in the flower bed where none may have existed. Pansy plants are members of the Viola family, originating from the small and delicate variety known as Johnny-Jump Up. Include a few of the original violas in the landscape with pansies for a fine and frilly texture in your beds.
Today’s hybrid versions of pansy plants are more adaptable to heat then those of the past with larger blooms displayed with more vigor. Most prefer daytime temps of the 60 F. (16 C.) range and nighttime temps around 40 F. (4 C.).
Breeders have created cultivars with the “face” to go with the drooping head of the pansy plant. Newer varieties of pansy plants prefer a full or part sun location and are happy in hanging baskets, combination containers and flower bed borders.
How to Grow Pansy Flowers
Pansies may be started from seed or purchased as seedlings from the local garden center. The pansy plant may grow with spring and winter blooming bulbs such as crocus, tulips, and daffodils. Plants grown from seed may not flower until the second year, as pansy plants are biennials.
Proper preparation of the soil goes a long way in getting the most from pansy plants. Work in organic material such as compost or well rotted leaves to a 4-inch (10 cm.) depth before planting pansies. This accommodates the growing pansy’s need for well-draining soil and provides nutrients as the organic material decomposes.
When growing pansies in well-prepared soil, the need for fertilization will be minimal. Pansies also prefer acidic soil, so do not add limestone unless indicated by a soil test.
Other pansy care is simple; water and deadhead pansies for a longer period of blooms.
Experiment with growing pansies in containers and the garden. Many colors and sizes of pansies provide numerous opportunities to include them in the landscape. Pansies’ care is nearly effortless. Plant some of these beauties in your garden this year.
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Tips on Growing Pansies From Seed
Pansy flowers grow all over the world in almost every color combination you can imagine. This flower has been called an annual, biennial and a perennial by myriads of gardeners. Pansies grow anywhere and can tolerate lots of abuse. The one thing pansies do suffer from is heat. The cooler temperatures of the northern states keep pansies growing from spring to fall while it is the winter months where pansies thrive in the southern states.
Healthy, well-maintained pansies have a heightened capacity for avoiding and overcoming problems when compared with neglected pansies. These flowers require placement in areas of the landscape that offer full sun for healthy growth and bloom. Pansies thrive in most soil types, as long as it is moist and well-draining with a high level of organic content. In addition, applications of an all-purpose fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, promotes healthy growth. Gardeners should apply fertilizer once in the fall and once in the spring.
Pansies are used for color massing, edging, containers and window boxes during the fall, winter and spring. Pansies thrive in cool weather. They will bloom any time that the temperature is above freezing. Their peak bloom is in spring. They fade and should be discarded with the start of hot summer weather.
Pansies grow best in a location that receives morning sun and has rich, well-draining organic soil. Add manure, leaf mold or compost to soil to increase organic content.
Sow seed indoors in late summer, six to eight weeks before transplanting. The pansies can be transplanted into the garden once the summer heat has been broken and cooler weather arrives.
If you purchase plants, choose ones that are stocky with dark green foliage and have few blooms but many buds.
Plant pansies and Johnny-jump-ups 6 to 8 inches apart for small-flowered cultivars and 10 to 12 inches apart for large-flowered. Water well after planting and continue to water through the fall and winter any time that less than an inch of rain falls during the week.
In the spring, there should be enough rain to provide adequate moisture for pansies (about an inch of water once a week). Never water pansies in the late afternoon or evening since this encourages disease.
Mix a granular slow-release fertilizer into the soil as you are planting the pansies. Pansies grow best with a soil pH of 5.4 to 5.8 therefore, in the typical residential landscape, the beds will not need a lime application. For best growth, the landscape soil should be tested annually to determine both the soil pH and the various nutrient levels. In the absence of a soil test report, apply a 5-10-10 granular fertilizer in late fall and again in early spring. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers that can make the plants susceptible to rot.
Mulch around the pansies with a 2-inch deep layer of organic material to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. Remove old flowers for longest bloom. Pansies will decline with hot weather and can be replaced with summer-flowering annuals.
Mulch around the pansies with 2 inches of organic material to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. Remove old flowers for longest bloom. Pansies will decline with hot weather and can be replaced with summer-flowering annuals.
How to grow pansies
Pansies are easy to grow and are long-time garden favourites for creating colourful pots, window boxes, hanging baskets and borders. They do best in a fertile soil in sun or part shade: in pots, use a peat-free multi-purpose potting compost, and in the ground improve soil with well-rotted organic matter before planting.
Regular watering, feeding, and deadheading will keep pansies looking good and encourage more flowers.
Growing pansies: jump links
Where to grow pansies
Pansies are very versatile and ideal for growing in all types of pot and container, either massed in a pot alone mixed with other plants or used to underplant large shrubs. They do best in full sun to partial shade.
In borders, pansies can make a display on their own or mixed with other bedding plants. They’re also excellent for filling bare patches. They make perfect partners with spring bulbs such as tulips, as the bulbs grow up through and between the flowering pansies.
How to plant pansies
Plant pansies from late summer to mid/late autumn to bloom through winter and the following spring. They can also be planted in spring to early summer to bloom through the growing season.
Spacing depends on planting time as well as variety size. Planting from late summer to early autumn is ideal as there will be time to for pansies to become established before winter. Space them 15 cm apart for bush varieties, and 20-25 cm for trailing varieties. The same spacing applies for spring-planted pansies.
Pansies planted in mid-late autumn should be planted closer together (around 10 cm apart for bush pansies, 15 cm for trailing varieties,) as they won’t grow as much before temperatures fall.
Use a good quality multi-purpose potting compost for planting pansies in pots. In borders, add some well-rotted garden compost or a planting compost first, to improve the soil.
How to care for pansies
Keep pansies watered during dry spells, pouring the water onto the soil rather than spraying the foliage, which helps avoid spreading fungal diseases. From spring to autumn, feed fortnightly with a liquid fertilizer or make a single application of controlled release fertilizer.
Remove the faded and dead flowers regularly which encourages the plant to keep producing new blooms. Either pinch them off with your finger and thumb or use a pair of garden snips or secateurs to cut off the dead heads.
How to propagate pansies
Pansies can be grown from seed. Sow the seed under cover in February to April to bloom from late spring to autumn. To grow pansies for autumn and winter flowering, sow seed from May to July.
Growing pansies: problem solving
Spots and blotches on pansy leaves can be caused by fungal diseases. The spots can be confined to the leaves only, but occasionally the stems or the centre of the plant can also rot. It’s important to buy healthy plants to avoid bringing disease into your garden, so buy from a reputable source and inspect closely for signs of disease. If you notice leaf spots on your pansies, pick the leaves off and bin them. Avoid growing pansies in the same spot the following year as as the fungal spores can survive in the soil.
How to Grow
Winter pansies require organically-rich, well-draining soil and a full sun location. Set out your transplants six to 10 inches apart to maintain adequate airflow.
While many plants don’t require irrigation in the cold weather, you might need to water your V. heimalis in the winter. During occasional warm spells, they’ll pop up and start doing their thing so you’ll need to make sure they don’t dry out.
Plants lose water through transpiration. Whenever they’re actively growing, they’re actively losing water, so these plants need a drink in the cool weather as much as they might in the spring.
However, you won’t need to give them a drop unless you’re experiencing a warm period and there’s no snow melt to help them out. If there’s snow on the ground, V. heimalis is probably doing just fine how it is.
Watch for gray-green foliage in cold weather – if the plant starts to droop, it’s time to water! Keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged, and remember that containers dry out more quickly than garden soil, to keep a close eye on your potted plants.
Even though technically a perennial, the winter pansy is a short-lived one. This means that fertilizers need to be of the “shoot first and ask questions later” persuasion.
I’m a big fan of Jack’s All-Purpose Fertilizer, which you can find on Amazon. It has served me well in the past for all of my ornamental purposes.
If you want something that will more directly encourage awesome blooming, try Blossom Bloomer instead.
You can find 10-30-20 (NPK) Blossom Bloomer available via Amazon.
Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana): There are more than 250 cultivars of pansies. Most of the cultivars are part of a series. A series consists of several cultivars that vary in color but share qualities such as hardiness, form, markings and so on.
- ‘Majestic Giant’ series has a free-flowering habit and stands up to heat and cold particularly well. The flowers are 3 to 4 inches across, all with faces.
- ‘Medallion’ series pansies have extra large flowers. All have faces.
- ‘Imperial’ series is prized for its non-fading colors and vigorous growth. Most of the blooms are 2 to 3 inches wide and faced. ‘Imperial Blue’ and ‘Imperial Pink Shades’ are especially nice.
- ‘Jolly Joker’ is a velvety purple with orange face. The plant has a compact habit and may grow 8 inches wide.
- ‘Crystal Bowl’ series pansies are small, clear-colored flowers. They are very free-flowering. The compact plants do not sprawl in the garden.
- ‘Maxim’ series has small, faced flowers that bloom prolifically on compact plants. ‘Maxim Marina’ is light blue with a dark blue face that is outlined in white. ‘Maxims’ have good heat and cold tolerance.
- ‘Padparadja’ is a rare brilliant orange. The blooms do not fade under heat stress.
- ‘Universal’ series pansies have masses of early-blooming flowers that may be clear colors or faced. The plants have proven to be very cold-and heat-tolerant.
- ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ flowers open white, and then gradually turn light blue, then darker. Blooms early and uniformly. Tolerates both heat and cold.
- ‘Rococo’ is an unusual strain with distinctly ruffled large blossoms. Very free-flowering and hardy.
- ‘Antique Shades’ is a mix of unique colors from apricot to rose. Silky blooms are 3 inches across. Heat tolerant.
‘Sorbet Antique Shades’ Johnny-Jump-Up
Joey Williamson, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Johnny-Jump-Ups (Viola cornuta, Viola tricolor): Johnny-jump-ups have much smaller flowers than pansies. They flower heavily and are more heat-resistant than pansies. Johnny-jump-ups are ideal for planting around bulbs and larger flowers.
- ‘Arkwright Ruby’ produces dark wine-red flowers with a golden eye and a golden edge in fall to spring.
- ‘Chantreyland’ produces large apricot flowers in fall to spring.
- ‘White Perfection’ has large white flowers that appear in fall to spring.
- ‘Sorbet’ series includes ‘Lemon Chiffon’, ‘Blueberry Cream,’ ‘Yellow Frost,’ ‘Blackberry Cream’ and ‘Purple Duet’. These are all very prolific, blooming in soft pastels. They reach about 10 inches tall.
- ‘Helen Mount’ has prolific tiny flowers of purple, lavender, and yellow. This is the traditional Johnny-jump-up.
If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.
Karen Russ, Former HGIC Horticulture Specialist, Clemson University
Bob Polomski, PhD, Associate Extension Specialist, Clemson University
This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.