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Pansies, the Face of Springtime

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Gardeners recognize pansies for their cheerful “faces” that make them stand out in the cool weather garden despite their diminutive size. You can also buy pansies in solid colors, which growers refer to as clear colors. Although horticulturists technically classify pansies as biennials, nurseries treat the plants as cold weather annuals.

Latin Name:

Photo © Jamie McIntosh

Pansies belong to the Viola genus, and the common garden species belong to Wittrock's hybrids, so you may see the plant labeled as Viola x wittrockiana.

Common Names:

Heartsease, Johnny-Jump-Up, Pansy, Sweet Violet, Violet

USDA Hardiness Zones:

Pansies grow in USDA zones 2 to 10, but in temperate zones, they grow in the spring and fall, while in warm climates they grow throughout the winter.

Size of Pansy Plants:

Pansy plants are compact, rarely exceeding 8 inches high. Plants can trail as much as 20 inches, softening the edges of borders and containers.

Foliage & Flowers of Pansy Plants:

Photo © Doug Wertman

Pansy plants display single blooms with five petals each. The flowers average 2 inches in diameter, and get smaller as the weather warms. Some varieties sport ruffled blooms.

Healthy pansy foliage is dark green, with lobed leaves. Although pansies can survive in temperatures as low as 15 degrees F, plants under cold stress may display foliage with a purplish cast.

Additional Pansy Facts:

Besides their versatile colors, pansies are sweetly fragrant and edible, lending their delicate scent to salads and desserts. The expansive color offerings of pansies make them a suitable garnish for wedding cakes, especially if you candy the flowers with superfine sugar.

Design Tips for Pansy:

Over the years, hybridizers have expanded the available color combinations of pansies to include apricot, blue, bronze, black, pink, purple, red, white, and yellow. Popular pansy varieties include:

  • Joker series: purple with an orange face
  • Crystal series: a range of 11 clear colors
  • Imperial series: vibrant colors that don’t fade
  • Springtime series: perform in a wide temperature range

Pansies are excellent candidates for the spring container garden, where they can show off their colors and fragrance close to eye level. In the garden, they serve to camouflage the fading foliage of spring bulbs.

Growing Tips for Pansies:

Garden stores and nurseries commonly sell pansies as bedding plants in flats or packs in the spring and fall. You should buy compact plants with buds but few flowers, as lanky plants with long flower stems have a short blooming life.

Pansies like cool, moist soil with ample amounts of compost or humus added at planting time. Pansies can handle full sun, but in hot regions, pansies last longer in partial shade. Pansies prefer temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees F, so don’t try to prolong their inevitable death when summer temperatures cause the plants to decline; simply rip them out and replace with heat-loving annuals.

Maintenance:

Removing spent blooms from pansies keeps the flower show going longer through the season. Keep a 3-inch layer of mulch around pansy plants to retain moisture in the soil and to protect the delicate feeder roots, which form a network just beneath the surface.

Apply fertilizer to pansies every two weeks for continuous bloom. The ideal fertilizer contains 5 parts nitrogen, 10 parts phosphorus, and 5 parts potassium. You can appeal to the gluttonous nature of pansies by combining mulch and fertilizer tasks: mulch with a nourishing combination of manure, compost, and leaf mould.

Pests & Diseases of Pansies:

Aphids may cluster on tender new growth of pansies. Slugs feed on stems and leaves of pansies, especially in warmer weather. Spider mites infest pansies stressed by hot, dry conditions.

Leaf and root rot can affect pansies that receive too much water. Inadequate air circulation may result in mildew, which looks like a white powdery substance on leaves. Planting pansies in the same location each year can encourage deadly fungal wilts, so rotate locations in the garden and use fresh potting soil in containers each season.   

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