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All About Pansies

red, white, yellow pansies
In early spring, Pansies burst into a huge array of bright and cheerful blooms, long before most other flowers.  Best of all is the range of colors and bicolors.  There is a pansy color (or two, or three, or...) for everyone.  Colors include almost all of the colors in the rainbow, including black and a variety of absolutely stunning blues.

Pansies are one the gardening world's most popular flowers.  And there is no doubt why: these early spring wonders are spectacular bloomers.  Pansies are members of the violet family, and native to Europe.  We're ever so grateful that Europeans didn't keep pansies to themselves.

Perhaps best of all, popular Pansies easy to grow.  That's why home gardeners and professionals allot generous amounts of garden and flowerbed space to pansies.  They also look great in windowsill planters, and containers on patios and decks.

Propagation of Pansies

Pansies are grown from seeds.  Pansies can be directly seeded into your flower garden.  However, we recommend an early indoor start to achieve the earliest blooms in the spring.

Start indoor transplants six to eight weeks before the last frost in your area.  Seeds germinate slowly, usually in 10 to 20 days.

How to Grow Pansies

Pansies like full to partial sun.  They prefer cool to warm climates, and wilt in mid-summer heat.  In the south, they are often grown in the winter, while the weather is cool.

They tolerate a variety of soils.  But, soil should be loose and hold moisture.  The plants need plenty of moisture to fuel their fast growth.  Add a general purpose fertilizer at planting time.

Sow seeds early in the season, and cover lightly with 1/8" soil, then water thoroughly once.

Transplant pansies into your garden after the last frost date for your area.  Space them 6" apart.  They will tolerate crowding.  Planning your pansy bed is important.  A well laid out design looks stunning when in full bloom.  Pansies respond well to regular deadheading.  As often as possible, pinch off spent blooms.  This will encourage new flowers, and extend the blooming period.

Established pansies should grow well, even with little care. Keep soil moist at all times.  Add mulch to retain moisture.

Fertility aids vigorous bloom.  If you apply a mild fertilizer at fall planting and every four to five weeks in spring, it will ensure good nutrition for the pansies. 

Heat causes pansies to become leggy and lose most of their bloom.  So when summer warmth begins to get the upper hand, go ahead and remove pansies to make way for your summer annuals

Insect and Diseases

Insect and disease problems are infrequent.  Slugs are the most common problem.  Use slug and snail pellets as needed.  Aphids can be an occasional problem.  Apply insecticides or fungicides only as needed.

Overwintering Pansies

Plant as early as possible, the more established the plants are, the better they’ll be able to withstand cold, desiccating winter conditions.  That means planting in September; if possible, however, October is acceptable.  Healthy plants establish more quickly, rapidly growing the root system that’s so critical to winter hardiness. 

Generally, varieties with medium size flowers over winter better than large-flowered types, but there are several exceptions.  In any case, obtaining the very hardiest cultivars is only a concern in northern areas such as Zone 4 and 5. 

Pansies are susceptible to saturated soil.  They have been known to over winter successfully, only to succumb to excessive moisture as the winter’s snow and ice begin to melt.  Be sure they are growing in a well-drained location.

Mixing Pansies with Other Flowers

A technique gaining in popularity is to plant spring blooming bulbs in fall in the usual fashion, and then install pansies in the same bed, right over the bulbs.  The bulbs will emerge and bloom, providing additional color while the bulb foliage ripens.  This is great way to get more color from your beds until it’s time to plant summer annuals.

Pansies vs. Violas

Pansies are Viola hybrids, officially known as Viola x wittrockiana, with a complex ancestry that includes several species.  They’re short-lived perennials but are used as annuals most commonly.  Similar to pansies and offered in garden centers at the same time are Johnny jump-ups (Viola tricolor) and Viola “Jackanapes”.  Both of these have hardiness similar to pansies.

Pansies come in Series that offer the same plant and flower characteristics but in a variety of bloom colors.  This gives you great flexibility in working with flower color because you can buy individual colors of a Series, if you wish or a mix of colors from the same Series.

Shopping for Pansies

Pansies don’t have a long shelf life in packs.  They stretch out quickly, and once they do, they’ll never do as well when planted.  Garden centers often sell old, stretched out plants at a discount, but resist the temptation to buy them.  Healthy pansies are compact, exhibit minimal leaf yellowing and probably show fewer blooms while in the packs because they’re younger plants.  Despite the lack of color at the time of purchase, these are the plants you want.  When you find packs that look good, pop a few plants out and look at the roots, they should be white, not brown, and should be well developed throughout the soil plug.

By Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture