Despite pansies' dramatic, gorgeous colors and easy-care ways, the word gardeners use to describe this favorite flowering plant is more often than not "cute." That's because each blossom seems to have a little face peering out at you happily from the bed. Low maintenance is the key to pansies' charms, so don't budget more than a few minutes a day as pansy care time.
Pansy Planting Time
Pansies are generally grown as annuals in spring and fall and are extremely popular for the winter garden. They are actually short-lived herbaceous perennials that thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 10. You'll get the most pleasure from your plants if you install them in fall, mulch them well during the winter, then enjoy the blooms again in spring. The summer heat will kill the plants, but you can put in more as autumn arrives. In mild zones on the coasts, they are grown as perennials.
Visit your local garden store in spring or fall and you'll find flats of pansies in a vast array of hues and color combinations. Many gardeners just pick up what they need when they need them, carting home container pansies to install in beds for instant gratification and outdoor ornamentation. These are the times nursery pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) bloom, when temperatures range from 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night to 60 degrees during the day. If you check soil temperatures, wait until they hover between 43 degrees and 65 degrees for ideal planting conditions.
If you are transplanting pansy plants from the garden store, be sure to plant them at the same level in your garden, without piling up soil around the stems. If you want to plant pansies from seed, begin indoors about four to six weeks before transplant time. Keep the soil moist and watch the little plants develop.
Pansies have the reputation of requiring little care, and, in truth, they don't need much hands-on care. The list only includes three items: irrigation, a little fertilizer and deadheading.
Pansies thrive with an inch of water a week during growing season. Water them in the mornings to allow the plants to dry by afternoon, because wet foliage can cause fungal infections. Feed your plants about a week after transplant. Use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer, about a teaspoon per square foot of flower bed. As always, water well after applying the fertilizer. Deadheading just involves pinching off blossoms that fade. This makes room for more flowers to arrive.
If you're going to try to keep the pansies over winter, you'll have to add mulching to the list. You can use any organic mulch, like compost, pine bark or wheat straw. Layer on between 4 and 6 inches to maintain soil warmth; this also keeps weeds from appearing and competing for water and nutrients.
As you'll find out by visiting the garden store, there is not one variety of pansy, but dozens. Some have smaller blossoms, and these typically tolerate more heat than others. You'll find medium blossoms too, and large blossoms. The larger the blossoms, the more these flowers benefit from a partial-shade location.
If you want to try something different, here are a few cool options.
- Jolly Joker, a cultivar with orange and deep purple blossoms that flowers in spring and summer
- Fama Series, with flowers that blossom in winter and spring
- Bolero Series, with large, ruffled blossoms that thrive in spring and fall.
- Bingo Series, with huge flowers that bloom early in hues from palest blue to deep wine
- Freefall Series offers trailing pansies, ideal for container planting in warmer climates.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.