by Matt Gibson
How To Grow Pansies (Viola × wittrockiana)
The pansy flower produces a nearly heart-shaped bloom, slightly overlapping petals and a face-like framed center with loud, bright colors that has won a spot in many gardens around the world due to its versatile beauty and wide range of color to select from. These eye-grabbing cold weather annuals have been bred to stand up to brisk temperatures and have become surprisingly hardy, considering the flower’s delicacy and the connotations of their name.
Often the first annual to bloom in a flower garden, the pansy has become a go-to choice for many gardeners because of its many varieties that offer multicolored beauty and easy care. Their only real weakness is that they are not heat resistant, and therefore will go dormant during the summer, when other flowers are just starting to stretch out their petals to enjoy the rays.
In the Victorian Age in England, pansies were a major part of communication between potential love interests. In those days, openly expressing your desires and feelings of love were frowned upon for multiple reasons, mostly because society was much more conservative than it is now. Victorian religious groups often took offense against expressions of amorous love for another human being during the period. The gifting of the pansy flower became, to Victorian youth, a symbol that was widely used for secretive courting.
Pansies Versus Other Viola Varieties
The pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) is a viola hybrid that is often confused for the flowers Johnny jump up and viola jackanape. While these flowers are all a part of the same family, they are separate species entirely. It’s easy to understand why the four different flower species get mixed up.
All of them are blooming at the same time. They are all short-lived perennials that are commonly grown as annuals or biennials, and they share a similar hardiness and overall bloom appearance. Johnny jump ups are typically available in the tricolor combo of purple, yellow and white, while jackanapes are usually available in gold and burgundy.
Violas and pansies, however, are available in tons of different varieties and, more importantly, color options, giving you, the gardener, the chance to hand select the shades that you like best for your garden canvas before you get to work painting your garden’s picturesque portrayal. Now that we’ve cleared any species confusion out of the way, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of how to care for pansies.
Growing Conditions for Pansies
Pansies can thrive in any U.S. growing zones, especially 7 and up, and even farther north in Canada. Though pansies prefer basking in the sun all day, they are known to grow fine in partial shade as well. In extremely hot climates, search out heat resistant cultivars, and be sure to provide them with moderate shade conditions. Pansies prefer loose, rich soil with a pH in the slightly acidic range: around 6.0 to 6.2.
How to Plant Pansies
If you want to grow pansies from seed, just treat them like they are biennials, and sow the seeds in midsummer. Seeds usually take one to two weeks to germinate but can take up to 15 weeks to start blooming. Drop them in their permanent homes during the fall months, but be sure to mulch well to protect the roots if you are gardening in a cold winter climate. However, pansies can be quite difficult to grow from seed, so buying seedlings at your local garden center is highly recommended.
Care of Pansies
Pansies typically grow from early spring until near the end of the summer, and in colder climates, they will keep on blooming throughout autumn and deep into the winter months. If your pansies are scraggly looking, cut the plants back significantly to promote new growth. Shearing the pansies back when they start to seed will encourage new growth, while cutting off any dead flower heads will promote additional blooming. As is the case with most any flower, pansies like fertilizer. Too much fertilizer will make them droop, though, so limit feedings to once per month.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Pansies
In partial shade, slugs can be an issue for gardeners growing pansies. If this is a problem for you, thin back planting a bit, or use a simple slug bait to deal with them as soon as you notice them.
Aphids are also a challenge with pansies from time to time. If you see them on the underside of leaves, do your best to rub them off with your fingers. Use a bit of insecticidal soap if necessary, and occasionally blast them up close with a full dose of pressurized water on the lightest setting possible, as pansies are quite sensitive to intense movement and energy. In the long run, though, if the aphids are exterminated or evicted, your flowers will thank you. Just try to be gentle with direct spray to the affected areas.
Videos on Growing Pansies
This video shows you how to get the most out of your pansies throughout the season:
This video breaks down how to choose the best pansy varieties, as well as how to plant them and care for them:
Check out this video if you want to learn how to grow pansies in containers:
This video breaks down the differences and similarities between pansies and violas:
Want to Learn More About Growing Pansies?
The Old Farmer’s Almanac covers Growing Pansies
Better Homes and Garden covers How to Select and Grow Pansies
Burpee covers All About Pansies
Flower Meaning covers The Pansy Flower: Its Meaning & Symbolism
Good Housekeeping covers How to Grow Perfect Pansies That Will Fill Your Garden With Color
The Spruce covers How to Grow Pansies