How to Plant and Care for Winter-Blooming Pansies
Somewhere, right now, there are pansies blooming, as they are truly a flower for all seasons. They flourish in the winter in the far South and are gorgeous in the summer in the North. In the spring and fall, those in the Midwest can enjoy their bright colors and wonderful fragrance.
All pansies are biennials (they have a two-year life cycle). In the first year after planting, they will grow from seeds but only leaves and stems are produced. In the second year after planting, they produce flowers and seeds, then the plants die. If you want to buy bedding plants from a garden center, they sell one-year-old pansies, so they should bloom and seed in the same year you plant them.
When your spring bulbs begin blooming, if you have planted pansies they should also be blooming, as they are one of the earliest flowers to bloom. This delicate-looking flower is loved by gardeners who love to walk out and admire the beautiful designs of their "faces" (a term bestowed upon the flower by growers). Another reason they are desirable is that they are fragrant and edible. The leaves and the flowers are not only edible, but they are high in vitamins A and C.
These lovable flowers are usually grown as annuals in cool seasons, because excessive heat is a real problem for them. Gardeners down south grow them throughout winter as annuals, replacing them with summer annuals, while gardeners in the north plant them in early spring or early fall.
Pansies have five rounded petals and can be found in one of three color patterns. The flowers can be one single color, while others may be a single color with black lines (referred to as penciling) radiating out from the center of the bloom.
Finally, the bloom may have a dark center (the part most people have come to know as the "face"). Luckily, pansies are relatively free of diseases or pests.
When, Where, and How to Plant Pansies
Depending on where you live and the type of pansy you plant, it can be an annual, a perennial, or a biennial. So to determine which type yours will be, know your zone.
When: Pansy seeds need to be sown between mid- and late-summer in order for them to flower during the following summer.
Where: When pansies are planted in a humus-rich soil, they will behave as perennials and could last for several years. If planted in less-than-desirable soil, they will act as annuals. They should be planted in well-draining soil about six inches apart in an area that receives a lot of sunshine (full or partial).
They prefer soil that drains well while retaining sufficient moisture to keep it from drying out completely. To improve your soil's quality, you can spread about two inches of compost over the surface, then work it into the top six inches or so. Doing so will provide your plants with organic matter and improve the soil quality at the same time.
How: Pansies can be sown directly into your garden or planted indoors for later transplanting.
- Sow your seeds and cover lightly with less than a half-inch of soil.
- Water thoroughly.
- If you are going to start them inside and transplant them, do so after the final frost date for your growing zone.
Notes: Pansies need insects for pollination to produce seeds. They will self-seed within the garden if you allow their seed heads to develop. Doing so will result in new seedlings, but the new plants aren't likely to look like the parent plant.
If you leave your pansies in the garden after they flower, you may find they become leggy. So it's best to remove them after they flower. Removing faded flowers will encourage more blooms and keep seeds from forming. Dig them up when the blooming has been completed.
Yellow leaves can indicate the presence of root rot, which is usually caused by overwatering. If you find a white, powdery substance on the leaves (and stems), you might have some powdery mildew. So choose a location that has good air circulation to prevent this. It is always better to prevent problems rather than be required to solve them.
What Should You Do About Leggy Pansies?
If you find that your pansies are getting leggy, you need to cut them back to about six inches in height. Make each cut directly above a leaf set on the stalk using a pair of small, sterilized clippers. After you cut them back, you will need to apply about a teaspoon of fertilizer for each square foot of your planting area.
There Are More Than 500 Species of Pansies Available
With so many pansies to choose from, I thought you might want to hear about some of my personal favorites. Here they are:
- Pansy Jolly Joker: These award-winning flowers have lower orange petals and upper petals in a deep purple. This variety can be sown early if you want summer flowers, or they can be sown in the summer for flowers during the rest of the year (if your winters are mild).
- Viola Angel Pansy Tiger Eye: If you love unique colors, you should adore this pansy. It has amber flowers with dark, contrasting black veins and a small central blotch. Very unusual but stunning, as you can see in the photo above.
- Nature Orange Pansy: You need only to glance at the photo below to see why these are some of my favorites. They are so cheery and bright that it would be hard not to fall in love with them.
Pansies Have Many Medicinal Uses
Pansies have several nutrients—including carotenoids, cyclotides, mucilage, salicylic acid, tannin, saponins, vitamin C, and violaquercitrin—and have been used medicinally for ages. The following is a partial list of their medicinal uses:
- They are used to treat a number of health problems due to the antimicrobial properties of the phenolic glycosides in the plant, along with the antioxidant properties of the flavonoids present.
- Ointments and skin creams that have pansies as an ingredient have both antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, so they are naturally used in treating various skin problems (acne, psoriasis, cradle cap, etc).
- Because of the antitussive properties, the plant is also used to treat respiratory conditions. It can also soothe inflammations and irritations of the mucous membranes of the throat (usually by gargling pansy tea).
- The salicylates in a pansy also have anti-inflammatory properties, making them effective in the treatment of arthritis or rheumatism.
How Are Pansies Classified?
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Division: Magnoliophyta
- Class: Magnoliopsida
- Order: Violales
- Family: Violaceae
- Genus: Viola
- Species: Tricolor
Pansies are also known as bird's eyes, wild pansies, garden violets, heartsease, yellow wild pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, and love-in-idleness.
- Nicholson, Nigel (1986), V. Sackville-West, The Illustrated Garden Book, Atheneum Publishers, New York
- Pereire, Anita (1995), The Ward Lock Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening, Sterling Publishing
- Rabinowitz, Cynthia M. (2002), Pansies for Spring and Beyond, Fine Gardening Magazine (February 2002)
© 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney