Would you like to inject some colour into your dull winter garden? Pansies won’t let you down. These stunning smiling flowers will bring some life back to winter. In this article, we’ll look at everything you need to know to grow and care for pansies.
What are pansies?
Before you run off to buy your favourite winter pansies, it’s important to know a bit more about this plant. This will help you to figure out when to plant pansies, where the best place is to help them grow and how to care for them.
The first thing you’ll need to know is that pansies are short-lived perennials. In some climates, however, they are annuals. Most of the time gardeners treat pansies as annuals regardless of the climate even though they can technically survive for two to three years if cared for properly.
The reason for keeping them as annuals is mostly due to their growth pattern in summer. Pansies tend to become quite leggy in warm temperatures which can look unattractive to some. The best time to have pansies around is from autumn until the end of spring.
These pretty flowering plants will flower even in snow. The flowers have heart-shaped overlapping petals with patterns that appear to be a smiley face. You do, however, get quite a few varieties of pansies with a range of different colours and patterns.
To complement your winter pansies, plant them alongside violas, primroses, trailing lobelia and sweet alyssum.
A quick guide to growing pansies
- Plant: Autumn
- Soil: Humus-rich, well-drained soil
- Soil temperature: 7°C- 18°C (45°F – 65°F)
- Frost: Tolerant of light frost and snow
- Position: Full sun to partial shade
- Water: Keep the soil moist
- Fertiliser: General all-purpose fertiliser
- Expected Size: 15.2 cm – 23cm (6-9″) tall and 23 – 30.5 cm (9-12″) wide
- Plant spacing:
- Single Plants: 25cm (10″) all round (minimum)
- Rows: 25cm (10″) apart with a 25cm (10″) row gap (minimum)
In-depth growing guide for winter pansies
Pansies aren’t difficult to grow. As long as you water them properly and feed them every now and then, they should be just fine. If you want to know a bit more about pansies than just the basics, keep reading.
If you live in a cool climate, you can plant your pansies in an area with full sun. In warmer climates, it’s best to keep them in an area that gets morning sun and shade throughout the rest of the day. Midday and afternoon sun may be too much for these cold-loving plants.
If kept in containers, you can move them around to the appropriate light conditions. Just keep in mind that these plants are even less tolerant of heat when kept in containers. You’ll need to make sure you pay attention to your pansies to keep them alive and blooming away.
The biggest problem people tend to have with their pansies is underwatering. If your pansies look a bit sickly, try giving them more water. Generally, it’s a good idea to water your pansies every day.
If you’re scared of overwatering, make sure the top inch of soil is dry before you water. Pansies don’t like to dry out completely so make sure to pay special attention to them on hot days.
This is especially important if your pansies are planted in an area with full sun or when kept in containers. These plants may need to be watered more than once a day if the soil tends to dry out quickly. If your plants aren’t getting enough water, you’ll quickly notice them wilting.
Pansies are best kept in moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil. These plants despise drying out but won’t do well in standing water. It’s best to find a comfortable in-between. To keep the soil moist, you’ll need to make sure that you use something that retains some water. The humus content should help with this.
To make sure the soil still drains well, you’ll need materials such as bark, perlite and vermiculite. These will help water to drain slowly so the plant can absorb what it needs to survive.
The humus content provides the pansies with a slightly moist, acidic environment to grow in. It will also help to retain some moisture for the pansies to absorb.
It’s also best to monitor the soil temperature before planting pansies. Your pansies will grow best in a soil temperature that’s between 7 and 18°C (45-65°F).
Pansies are frost tolerant plants. They do well in temperatures far into the minuses (or teens if you’re working in Fahrenheit). Pansies prefer cold areas, they can be grown in warmer climates as well but will become annuals instead of perennials.
In the UK pansies will mostly be grown as annuals. If you live in an area that gets severe frost, you will need to protect your pansies by using mulch. If you’re only dealing with snow, there’s no need to worry. Snow insulates and protects pansy plants while they continue flowering throughout.
Pansies come in different sizes, patterns and colours. What you decide to choose for your garden depends on taste and climate. The variety referred to as winter pansies grow about 15-23cm (6-9″) tall and 23-30.5cm (9-12″) wide.
To make sure your plants aren’t overcrowded, make sure your single plants are surrounded by a minimum space of around 25cm (9″) all around.
To keep your pansies blooming, you will need to feed your plants a balanced all-purpose fertiliser. It’s best to choose a solid slow-release fertiliser. This way you can be sure that your plant gets the nutrients it needs even in winter when snow may make fertilising more difficult.
If your plants will be kept in containers, a weekly liquid fertiliser feed will do the trick. Just make sure to water thoroughly before applying liquid fertiliser to prevent burn damage. The only fertiliser that should be avoided is one with high nitrogen content. This fertiliser isn’t necessarily bad for your plants, but it will reduce the number of blooms quite drastically.
The best way to prolong flowering in your pansy plants is to deadhead any faded or dead flowers. This means picking out the flowers in question and snipping them off at the base where it joins the plant.
Once your plant starts to become leggy, most people rip them out and replant it next season. You can, however, continue to care for this short-lived perennial if you like.
Pansies aren’t the easiest plants to grow from seeds. They are quite finicky and should be barely covered by soil to succeed. This makes it very difficult to not wash the seeds away in the first few days before the seedling emerges.
Most gardeners opt to skip the seedling stage. They simply buy their plants ready for transplanting from a nursery. This is definitely the easier way to do it unless you don’t mind quite a bit of disappointment until you get the hang of growing pansies from seeds.
Did you know?
Pansies are more than just a pretty flower in your garden. These beauties are edible too. They are said to have a mild minty flavour and are often used as a garnish in salads and desserts.
When to plant pansies
The best time to plant pansies is in autumn. By doing so, you give them a chance to establish before winter hits. You can also plant pansies in spring, but doing so means you’ll need to help them survive summer.
Pansies aren’t the best heat-tolerant plants. If you live in a climate with very hot summers, these aren’t the flowers for you. Pansies get very leggy when exposed to summer heat. For this reason, they are often planted as annuals during autumn.
Pansies aren’t the hardiest of plants. For this reason, you need to be wary of quite a few problems. Here’s what to look out for:
The signs for mosaic viruses are quite variable. Some signs you can look out for are irregular leaf mottling (yellow, light and dark green patches on the leaves), stunted, curled or puckered leaves with lighter veins than normal, dwarfed plants compared to healthy neighbours, fewer flowers than normal, and dwarfed, deformed or stunted flowers.
This disease thrives in humid conditions. You can expect to see pale green to yellow spots forming on the leaves that later turn brown. You might also see dark purplish fuzz growing on the underside of the leaves. Most fungicides will help to sort out this problem. Also, try to reduce the humidity.
The first sign of this disease is pale yellow spots on both the upper and underside of the leaves. These spots slowly merge into larger blotches. You will then notice a powdery substance appearing on the affected areas. Treat your plant with a fungicide to get rid of this problem.
Crown and root rot
Crown and root rot is often caused by overwatering in poorly drained soil. The soil will force the water to stand around for much longer than necessary. This means the plant’s roots won’t be able to breathe and start to die off.
The earliest symptoms of this problem include wilting despite being in wet soil, yellowing of the leaves, a bad smell around the roots and mould appearing around the base of the plant.
To solve this problem, water on a regular schedule and make sure that the first inch of soil is dry before watering again. Also, repot with well-draining soil to avoid standing water.
Rust appears as pale spots that eventually turn into spore-producing structures called pustules. These structures are usually rust coloured, hence the name. You can use a fungicide to treat this problem.
Grey mould, as the name suggests, usually appears as grey-brown lesions on the leaves of your plant. It can also be seen on the flowers where they will appear as small grey spots. You can treat this problem with a fungicide.
This problem usually appears as tan or brown irregular spots on the leaves. The leaves will also usually appear distorted, cupped or curled. In severe cases, you will experience dropping leaves. Treat your plants by removing any obviously affected leaves. Spray the remaining leaves with a copper-based fungicide.
Slugs, snails, and aphids
Pests are quite common on pansies, we’re not the only ones that think they’re good to eat! To treat pests, spray your pansies with an organic, pest-specific spray and see our guide for naturally keeping slugs and snails away.
Underwatering is a common problem in pansies. Plants that have been underwatered will wilt, develop brown, dry leaf tips and develop fewer flowers than they would normally.
Pansies usually become leggy in warm to hot temperatures. To solve this problem, either grow your pansies as annuals and replant every year or trim back the stems by making a cut right above the last leave set closest to the base of the plant. Make sure to fertilise the pansy afterwards to help it recover.
Now that you know how to care for winter pansies, it’s time to start growing your own. Just remember to use well-draining soil, water regularly and provide your pansies with enough morning light to keep them growing.
When should I buy winter-flowering pansies?
Pansies usually go on sale in early September in the UK. You can buy and plant them at this time. The latest you should buy them is in mid-October as this allows the plants to establish themselves before winter hits.
Do pansy flowers bloom in winter?
Yes. Pansies prefer the cold and will start to flower when the temperature drops in autumn. In some areas, they can flower throughout the year.
Are winter-flowering pansies perennial?
Yes, but most people tend to treat them as annuals. Pansies aren’t the easiest to care for during the summer months and can become quite leggy and unattractive in the heat.
How do pansies survive winter?
Pansies are very hardy plants that prefer the cold. When snowed on, the snow acts as a protective blanket that insulates the pansies. You can also use mulch to protect your plants in areas with frost.
What do you do with winter pansies after flowering?
Most people replace the pansies with a plant that will flower in summer. If you prefer, you can deadhead the flowers and keep your plant alive throughout summer.