by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Giant 3″ flowers thrive in extreme March gardens. Large, velvety blooms dazzle with radiant colors of blue, violet, yellow, and variations of stripes that look like smiling faces and love being planted in late winter through March. A tight form with excellent branching and dense, green foliage. This early and repeat bloomer will supply reliable spring and fall color to beds and containers.
Pansies are a form of cultivated, hybridized violet, noted for their large multi-colored flat flowers and their fondness of cool temperatures. The types most often sold commercially are a hardy type of Viola.
The gardener knows pansies as flowers with almost heart-shaped, overlapping petals in bright colors or bi-colors, often with face-like center markings. Breeding has produced pansies that are able to stand up to the cold rather than the heat of summer. And like their cousins, the violas and violets, the flowers are edible.
Technically, pansies are short-season perennials, but they are usually grown as annuals. In warmer mountain gardens, they are grown as biennials lasting a couple years.
Compact, low growers, pansies are ideal for edging and squeezing in between rock walls and paths. They’re a great choice for early and late season containers. In the garden, they complement spring-flowering bulbs, flowering as the bulb foliage begins to fade. Most pansies don’t get very tall; they will flop or cascade a bit if they do.
Traditional pansies bloom from spring through early summer, with some repeat bloom in the fall. USDA Zones 7 and warmer can grow pansies throughout the winter. There are newer varieties, such as the ice pansy, that are bred to withstand mountain snows.
Botanical Name Viola x wittrockiana
Common Name Pansy
Plant Type Short-lived perennial usually grown as an annual
Mature Size 4-8″ inches tall, 4-6″ inches wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Loose, well-draining soil
Soil pH Slightly acidic, 6.0-7.0
Bloom Time Spring through early summer
Flower Color White, yellow, purple, blue
Hardiness Zones 7 to 11 (USDA)
Native Area Europe, eastern Asia
How to Grow Pansies
When buying plants, choose pansies that are stocky, bushy, and have plenty of buds. If you can allow your pansy plants to remain in your garden and rest during the hottest months, they will most likely bloom again through Autumn. Shearing the plants back when they start to set seeds encourages fresh new growth. Pinching or Dead-heading spent flowers encourages more bloom.
Pansies bloom best in full sun to partial shade. In mountain gardens, they 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 acid pH (6.0 to 7.0). They are heavy feeders, so amend your soil with Watters Premium Mulch to give them a good start.
Regular watering helps Pansy bloom into early summer, but don’t expect your pansies to last all season. Make sure to use containers with drainage holes, or if planting in the ground, make sure the soil drains well.
Temperature and Humidity
Pansies do not like heat at all and will begin to decline the summer mountain heat.
As with any long-blooming annual plant, pansies appreciate some fertilizer. They respond well to foliar feeding at two-week intervals. Feed every other week with Flower Power created by Watters Garden Center.
Suggested Varieties of Pansy
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 Pansy – Large, ruffled, semi-double flowers; does well in both spring and fall.
- Bingo Pansy – Large-flowered in 14 colors from pale blue to burgundy; blooms earlier than the popular Majestic Giants series.
- Cool Wave Pansy – Fast-growing with vibrant bloom; plants have a spreading habit, like Cool Wave petunias. Good “spillers” for containers
- Freefall Pansy – Day-neutral, trailing plants; great for containers
- Joker Pansy – Very pronounced faces; bicolored in complementary colors
- Princess Pansy – Compact growth habit and dainty flowers; monochromatic tones from cream to deep purple, with yellow centers
Growing Pansies From Seed
If the plants are not dead-headed, pansies will drop seeds that readily take root. It’s not unusual to find 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 bad, as you may well appreciate the surprising result. 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 created by hand-pollinating one species with the pollen from another species.
Cast the seeds over a tray of Seedling Potting Soil, moisten the tray, and keep covered 2-weeks with black plastic until the seeds germinate. Then remove the plastic and transfer the tray to a sunny location and keep the soil moist. Stratifying the seeds for two weeks helps improve germination. When the seedlings are a few inches tall with at least two sets of true leaves, transplant them into small pots. They should be growing in a sunny location until it’s time to transplant outdoors. Harden off seedlings for two weeks, gradually introducing them to outside conditions before planting outside.
Growing Pansies in Containers
With their trailing habit, pansies are very popular in containers and window boxes. They don’t like soggy roots, so make sure to use Watters Potting Soil when planting pots and raised beds. Pinch off leggy growth and dead-head regularly, and feed with Watters Flower Power every 2 weeks for riotous flowers.
Common Pests and 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 drys better. Occasionally, aphids attack pansies. Use caution if you prefer to kill aphids with a strong blast of water since pansies are relatively small and delicate. Watters Multi-Purpose Insect Spray removes any bug issues.
Better Together: Companion Plants for March
This impressive bloomer is covered with flowers right now. Animal resistive with fragrance all pollinators adore. A knee-high evergreen is super easy to care for in the ground or containers.
At just 16’ feet tall, this local native is super easy to grow. Vibrant, red flowers cloak the branches of early spring. Luscious heart-shaped leaves emerge with a soft pink tinge that matures to a vibrant green.
This gorgeous shrub explodes with masses of solar yellow flowers followed by shiny green leaves. Every home should have one for sheer beauty, fall color, and gentle natural care.
A local favorite for rock gardens, groundcover, or spilling over retaining walls, not all local rosemary is created equal. This one lives where others die. Knowing you can also use it in the kitchen is sheer bliss.