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How to Grow: Pansy
Viola x wittrockiana
Full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Spring and fall in colors such as blue, red, yellow, pink, orange, rose, purple, black, white and bi-colors
Mature Height x Spread
6 to 10 inches x 8 to 12 inches
edible, attracts beneficials
This cool season loving flower is a common sight in garden centers in spring and increasingly in late summer as a fall crop. Both pansies and violas are terms that are used interchangeable for the same plants. The flowers are large with “faces” or dainty and small depending on the variety. These low growing, spring beauties offer a shot of color after a long New England winter. The summer heat forces plants to dieback or to just stop flowering. But those that survive often can be revived for a fall flower show. Some of the small flowered varieties tend to be hardier and I’ve had many a ‘Johnny Jump Up’ overwinter in my Vermont garden. The flowers are edible and are great in salads.
Where, When and How to Plant
While you can start pansies from seed indoors under grow lights 10 to 12 weeks before your last frost date, the seeds are small and germination sometimes problematic. It’s easier to purchase transplants in spring from a local garden center. Plant pansies in well-drained, fertile soil as soon as the ground can be worked in spring, about the time you plant peas. Although they can survive a frost, protect plants from prolonged freezing temperatures with a row cover. Pansies grow best in full to part sun. Space plants 6 to 8 inches apart in beds or containers.
Plant a fall crop of pansies in late summer to bloom into autumn. Protect plants from freezes and you can get your plants to flower into November in New England.
Keep plants well watered. Pansies will flower longer into the summer if planted in part shade. Feed pansies monthly with an organic plant food. Some varieties self sow readily. Thin self-sown seedlings in spring to proper spacing for best flowering.
Regional Advice and Care
Protect pansies growing in fall by covering them with a mound of bark mulch applied after a few hard freezes. This will protect them from winters’ cold and help them overwinter. In spring, remove the mulch once the temperatures warm. In summer, cut back struggling plants, fertilize and water. They will revive with cooler temperatures. Control slugs in the garden with organic baits, traps and barriers.
Pansies planted in containers can be brought indoors and grown as houseplants in winter in a sunny window. Cut back leggy plants indoors to promote bushy growth.
Companion Planting and Design
Plant pansies in containers on a deck or patio for early spring and fall color. Mix different varieties to have a rainbow of colors. In the garden combine pansies with other cool weather lovers, such as calendula and snapdragons.
There are many series of pansy varieties offering a wide range of colors and petal forms. The ‘Joker Series’ has very pronounced faces. The ‘Bingo Series’ are early bloomers and the ‘Majestic Series’ features large-sized flowers. For hardier varieties try ‘Icicle’ series. ‘Johnny Jump Ups’ are small flowered pansies that self-sow readily and spread throughout the garden.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.