How to Grow Pansies and Violas for Multi-Season Color | Gardener’s Path (2023)

Here’s a very short story about why I love pansies:

My fiance loves colorful flowers. The brighter the better, she’d tell you. I’ve always tried to work with a specific palette of color to ensure a nice cohesion to landscape design. She, on the hand, wants pinks here and bright oranges in the corner, and don’t forget yellow and red in the middle.

When we bought pansies for the front garden, the first garden we planted together, we had a difficult time finding enough identical colors in the quantities we needed. So our first garden became a kaleidoscope, a dizzying array of two-toned flowers that we mashed together. It looked like somebody dropped a few dozen 64-pack boxes of Crayola crayons in the yard.

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There was no symmetry or attempts at order here; we planted at random to make the most of our purchase. Little did I suspect that with pansies, you don’t need rhyme or reason. Pansies can be planted in one mass of color, or thrown together into a mix resembling scattered Skittles, and they’ll reward you with incredible displays of color.

It’s the best garden I’ve ever planted, and I owe it all to the pansy.

A Short History Lesson

The pansy gets its name from the French word pensée, or “thought.” So wrinkle that brow and get ready to jump into some learnin’!

Pansies are almost universally known as either “pansies” or “violas.” Modern-day pansies trace their origin to the European flower Viola tricolor, a wildflower that has since been introduced into North America where it has taken hold as a common sight in lawn and field.It’s easy to see the similarities between a viola and a pansy, but there’s one surefire way to distinguish them from each other:

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If the flower has four petals facing upward and one petal facing downward, you’re looking at a pansy. If the flower has two upward-facing petals and three facing downward, it’s a viola. Take that little tidbit to your next garden club meeting.

The staggering array of colors and patterns available in pansies today can be traced back to wealthy landowners and their trusted gardeners.

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Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet of Surrey in England sought to collect and cultivate every type of V. tricolor in her garden that she could get her hands on. Her gardener, William Richardson, convinced her to cross-breed the superb collection of flowers. By 1812, the flowers were introduced and other gardeners took a stab at further cultivars.

At about the same time, James, Lord Gambier and his gardener, William Thompson, crossbred their own specimens. Thanks to the combined efforts of landowners and their smooth-talking gardeners, by 1833 there were over 400 new species of V. tricolor available, with their own cultivar names.

The Truth About Pansies

I do love to drink a tasty beer while I’m gardening at home, and I think a little bit of Truth goes a long way when we’re talking about the uses of pansies.

The great appeal of absorbing yourself in the world of plants is that there’s always something new to learn. For example, this article you’re reading right now is about how to plant and care for pansies. However, in my research, I learned some surprising insights on V. tricolor.

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(Video) Starting Pansies, Violas, Dahlias, Lobelia, Sage and more flowers from seed NOW!

First off, these guys are edible. That’s pretty great in and of itself. You can see colorful pansies used to decorate cakes and salads, and they’re used to infuse honey with particular flavors. Think of that pansy bed as a fall and springtime nasturtium replacement.

We recommend only eating flowers from your garden that have been grown organically, and take it easy when adding them to your salads and desserts, in case of possible allergies.

To add pansy flowers to your meals, simply pluck off the flowers you like and add them to the dish. Be mindful of insects and other undesirables. It should be standard practice to rinse off anything from your garden before eating it!

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Traditionally, V. tricolor has been used medicinally as well. The mucilage found in the plant provides treatment for rough coughs by soothing mucous membranes. It’s been used to treat respiratory problems, asthma, fever, and constipation, among other ailments. Some sources claim it can be used to treat skin wounds and psoriasis.

If you’re going to ingest your pansies, be diligent on what types of fertilizer you are using. Carefully read the labels of all fertilizers, mulches, and other accessory products used in your garden beds.

Care and Maintenance

Delightful and prosperous in the right conditions, these flowers require some basic preparation and site maintenance to thrive. They also suffer from a number of diseases and pests, but a little knowledge goes a long way in preventing these conditions.

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It bears mentioning right off the bat that pansies fare exceptionally well in containers, because this eliminates the usual source of problems while providing all of their favorite conditions.

Starting Things the Right Way

Chances are you’re going to be starting in a garden center or perhaps shopping online when planting pansies. This is where it all begins!

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There are three rules for buying almost any landscape flowering plant, and they all apply to purchasing the pansy. Luckily, they’re all super simple. Here’s what to look out for:

1. Healthy Leaves and Stems

The leaves and stems should be firm and green with no limp qualities, signs of rot, or obvious infestations of critters.

Most attendants at the plant nursery are happy to answer your questions if you have any about the health of a plant.

2. Strong Roots

Although it can be difficult to inspect the roots, it’s not impossible. Give the stem of the plant a gentle tug, as if you’re removing it from its container. If the plant threatens to pop out of the soil, it’s too weak, and if the whole cell slides out, you’re looking at a rootbound plant.

Just like Goldilocks, you want the plants that are somewhere in the middle, with roots that are just right.

3. Buds

It’s tempting to buy the plant with the flashiest flowers right now, but hold off on that and find a plant with plenty of buds instead. Those buds will open up into new flowers in a few days or weeks and provide you with lasting color, whereas the flowers already in bloom at the garden center are likely to wither away shortly after you get home.

Now that you’ve picked up your plants, let’s look at their new home.

Fall is the best time of year to plant a pansy. The cooler temperatures and less intense light enable the plant to establish healthy roots to survive the winter months. Although they’ll grow in conditions with less light, the pansy prefers a solid 6 hours of sunlight or more to prosper.

(Video) Voila! Viola!

Consider planting V. tricolor in an area where you have spring bulbs. The variety of flowers will all bloom at the same time and provide a brilliant display of springtime color.

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Like many plants, the pansy requires well-drained soil. If you have a slightly elevated bed, ideally around 6 inches higher than grade, you’ve got an ideal situation for growing V. tricolor.

Amend the soil with good quality compost to aid in drainage. Many communities offer free compost; it makes fall and spring leaf cleanups a breeze when homeowners return the leaves as compost!

If planted en masse in a bed for a real pop of color, maintain a distance of 6 to 10 inches between plants to aid in air circulation. If you are the indecisive type, plant them 8 inches apart!

Speaking of planting, are you using a soil knife? Mine has become a vital tool in the last year, and I wonder how I ever did without it. Check out the one I use by A.M. Leonard, available on Amazon.

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A.M. Leonard Classic Stainless Steel Soil Knife

You know that feeling you get when you get a new haircut? It’s refreshing, isn’t it? The pansy responds the same way to getting a haircut.

Deadheading only takes a few minutes and these flowers will respond with glowing color. When growth gets leggy, it’s beneficial to bring out a pair of shears and give them a good haircut to encourage new growth.

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Jack’s Classic 20-20-20 All Purpose Fertilizer from J R Peters, available on Amazon

For the best blooms, fertilize regularly. Every two weeks is a good schedule during the fall and spring growing seasons. I recommend Jack’s All-Purpose Fertilizer for just about anything in your garden. If you prefer a slow-release organic fertilizer, use Espoma Plant Tone, my other go-to choice.

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Espoma PT18 Plant Tone, available on Amazon

When fertilizing, it’s wise to wet the soil around the plants before applying a liquid fertilizer. This allows the nutrients to be absorbed more quickly by the plants and prevents runoff.

If you’re using a granular or slow-release fertilizer, do this the other way around. That is, apply the fertilizer to dry soil and then water it in.

4. Cold Weather Care

Pansies share a similar tenacity towards cold weather but a closely related species, the winter pansy (Viola hiemalis), is partcularly hardy.

As a rule of thumb, the larger the flower on a pansy, the less likely the plant is to overwinter well.

Read more about overwintering pansies here.

(Video) Spring Planting Pansies & Violas| Jhuly's Aquatics & Gardening

Pests and Other Concerns

For all of those great shows of color, the pansy also invites its share of trouble. But like most things in life, a little diligence by way of prevention can stop a problem before it starts.

Aphids, the pansy worm, cutworms, and the slow creeping march of slugs all plague V. tricolor. Regular insecticidal soaps will assist in preventing infestations, and in removing problems. The best method to preventing these pests from becoming a problem is to maintain a watchful eye on the health of your plants.

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Kill two birds with one stone by inspecting plants for pests while deadheading. You’ll save time and help keep those blooms in tip-top shape.

Root rot and downy mildew are the biggest concerns for pansy health. These are situations easily avoided by maintaining a healthy watering schedule and by carefully selecting where your plants will be established.

The Passing Seasons

A brilliant display of flowers while they are becoming established in the fall is hyphenated by the winter cool-down. Pansies will survive in the cold and the snow with little more than a stiff upper lip turned towards ol’ Jack Frost. Frozen winter days are when I consider watering my pansy bed with whiskey because they’re John Wayne tough.

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Pansies will survive through most single-digit weather and can have snow and ice dumped on them. However, if you want to guarantee their survival, consider giving the plants a good watering before a hard freeze to protect the roots. Pine straw is an excellent choice for mulching your pansy bed for added protection from the onslaught of winter.

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Personally, I say, leave ‘em be. Pansies will pop up and smile at the sun during warm winter weather. Why cover up and potentially minimize that rare flash of winter color?

The arrival of spring provides a good opportunity to give the plants a quick cleanup, but then brace yourself for that color explosion. Springtime is when these guys really shine.

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Unfortunately, the hotter it gets, the weaker pansies perform. They are simply not cut out for warmer weather, and even specific cultivars bred for this purpose tend to winnow out when temperatures climb in June and July. My own bed was completely dried up and withered by the Fourth of July. But you may find more success and a longer season in cooler climates.

A Closer Look at Cultivars

Working at a garden center allowed me to learn the names people prefer to use for their plants. It led to many a confusing interaction – imagine being asked for “chlamydia” when the customer meant “clematis”. Believe me, it’s happened more than once.

We’re going to look at a handful of cultivars available below.


A reliable and hardy flower, the Colormax series offers a viola with a larger flower.

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Rivaling pansies in size, it can handle winter cold and sudden spikes of warmth through the fall and into early summer.


My favorite style of pansy, the Delta offers a tremendous variety of color in a plant that’s capable of taking some serious punishment.

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(Video) How to Fertilize Winter Flowers | Catherine Arensberg

The flowers are almost constantly in bloom and offer a wide enough selection that even the most picky gardener can find something suitable. These flowers tend to be smaller than other types.


The Matrix varieties have the most interesting colors, as far as I’m concerned. The one pictured here is ‘Solar Flare’, and if that’s not a punchy and vibrant color, then I don’t know what is!

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The Matrix cultivars about as hardy as the Delta series.


It’s all in the name with this one. The Mammoth provides some massively-sized flowers with a respectable assortment of colors to choose from.

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Although you’ll receive huge flowers from the Mammoth series, keep in mind that they are also less hardy against cold winters.

Where to Buy

Though you local nursery is likely your best bet for pallets of pansies that are ready to put into your containers or the ground, if you’re willing to start from seed, a variety of options are available to you.

We love the variety offered in the Cool Wave Series, available from True Leaf Market. You can choose from packs of 100 seeds in Frost, Golden Yellow, Violet Wing, Purple, or mixed packages.

How to Grow Pansies and Violas for Multi-Season Color | Gardener’s Path (20)

Pansy Cool Wave Series in Purple

This vigorous spreading variety is excellent for hanging baskets and ground covers, and it boasts excellent overwintering hardiness with two-inch blooms.

Want More Options?

Be sure to check our two supplemental guides: “19 of the Best Pansy Varieties to Grow at Home” and “39 of the Best Violet Varieties.”

Put Your Knowledge to Work for Enjoyment Through the Seasons

Planting pansies is one of my favorite gardening traditions, coupled with enjoying throughout the colder seasons and again in the springtime sun. They are an excellent flower for novices and experts alike to liven up their yards and porches.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to run to the store and buy my usual motley array of colors and get to planting. I’ll see you out there!

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Do you have any pansy memories you want to share, or questions about planting these lovely flowers? Ask us here in the comments, or feel free to connect with us on the Gardener’s Path Facebook page or Twitter!

Looking for more flower guides? Here are a few suggestions:

(Video) Garden Tour - Tulips, Violas, Daffodils, Native Blueberry, Daphne, Loropetalum

  • Tips for Growing Violets, Violas, and Pansies Indoors
  • How to Grow Joe-Pye Weed in Your Landscape or Garden
  • How to Grow Hardy Fuchsia Shrubs in the Home Garden

Photos by Matt Suwak. © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via A.M. Leonard, J.R. Peters, Espoma, True Leaf Market. Uncredited photo: Shutterstock.

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.


How do you layout pansies? ›

Pansies like full or partial sun, but need cooler temperatures to thrive. The ideal planting site will get morning sun but avoid the heat of the late afternoon. Space the plants about 7 to 12 inches apart. They will spread about 9 to 12 inches and grow to be about 6 to 9 inches tall.

What month is best to plant pansies? ›

Ideally, plant your pansy plants in borders or pots during September and early October – this will give them a better chance to grow sturdy roots and flowers.

Do pansies and violas come back every year? ›

The short, quick answer is, yes. Because they have little freeze tolerance, most will die in sustained winters. In areas with moderate temperatures, they may come again in spring, especially if they were mulched to protect the roots.

How do you keep violas blooming all summer? ›

Violas are fairly easy to look after. They will flower longer if you deadhead the spent flowers and occasionally give a liquid feed of seaweed to give them a boost. You can even shear them off completely to about 5cm in mid-summer and after a good feed they will return to flower in a month or so.

How far apart should I plant violas? ›

Mounding violas should be spaced about 6 to 8 inches apart. Trailing or spreading varieties can be planted 10 to 12 inches apart. Violas begin blooming about 12 to 14 weeks after planting seeds.

Do pansies like to be crowded? ›

Pansy plants are usually planted at spacings of 6 inches, 8inches or 10 inches between plants (Table 3). Although a 6-inch spacing makes the bed appear more full, plants may become crowded and more susceptible to spider mites and diseases.

What color pansies go together? ›

Bright colored Viola or Pansy flowers. The colors yellow and blue go well together, they are so called complementary colors Stock Photo - Alamy.

Do pansies need Miracle Grow? ›

Pansies need extra fertilizer during the winter months to continue flourishing. Mix up a batch of water-soluble, liquid fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food 15-30-15, and give them a substantial meal. Moisten the soil with plain water first, and then pour on the fertilizer.

Do pansies need to be deadheaded? ›

For pansies, be sure to deadhead (remove spent blooms) regularly to encourage lots of flower production and to minimize disease spread during periods of wet weather.

Do pansies need a lot of water? ›

Watering: Consistent moisture keeps pansy blossoms soft and supple, but roots won't tolerate soggy soil. Water pansies regularly through the growing season, but allow soil to dry slightly between waterings. The drier soil conditions also help pansies harden off and tolerate cold.

How long do pansies and violas last? ›

That means if you plant them in the autumn, pansies can last up to eight months, from September to April or May, providing colorful blooms for much of that time. They usually aren't very pretty in the dead of winter, but their spring blooms can be even more robust when the plants have been in the ground since fall.

How long do pansies and violas flower for? ›

Most violas have a long flowering period in spring and summer - and the winter-flowering pansies will provide excellent garden colour throughout the colder months of the year and well into late spring.

How do you get violas to rebloom? ›

Violas benefit from a light dose of organic fertilizer each month during the growing season. Deadhead blooms often to encourage fresh blooms. Hot weather causes viola blooms to fade and plants to die back. Cut back violas in the fall to reinvigorate the plant and encourage fall blooming.

What is the difference between violas and pansies? ›

You can tell the difference between pansies and violas by looking at the number of petals. If the bloom has four petals pointing upward, and one petal pointing downward, it is a pansy. If the flower has two petals pointing upward and three pointing downward, it is a viola.

What is the best fertilizer for violas? ›

Use one-half pound of ammonium sulfate per 100 square feet of bed area. Repeat the application every 4 to 6 weeks, depending on rainfall. Dried blood meal or cottonseed meal are also excellent sources of fertilizer for pansies and violas. Be sure to water well after applying fertilizers.

What months do violas bloom? ›

Violas tend to have small flowers and tolerate heat, with a long flowering season from early summer to early autumn.

Can violas be planted close together? ›

You can plant the violas close together, as they like massed groupings. Pansies need to be planted six inches apart, but they can be planted as far apart as 10 inches in a landscape. Pansies will continue to bloom as long as it does not get too hot.

How often should violas be watered? ›

Give your pansies or violas a long, deep watering about once a week. Water again whenever you notice that the top inch of soil has dried out. To make sure you don't deprive your plants of water, check the soil with your finger every two or three days.

What plants go well with violas? ›

Companions: Plant violas with low-growing grasses like blue fescue and some Carex varieties, fairy primroses, Iceland poppies, ferns, helichrysum, artemisia, heuchera, alyssum. In warm climates, they're a good over-planting for spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils and tulips.

What is the best container for pansies? ›

When choosing a container for pansies or violas you should be mindful of air movement and drainage. In summer the best containers for air flow and drainage are clay and concrete pottery.

How do you keep pansies bushy? ›

Trim Pansies in the spring to remove any damaged or dead growth left over from the winter. Long and leggy sections can be cut back any time during the growing season to encourage full and bushy growth. Inspect the plants and cut back bare sections of stems at any time.

What temperature is too hot for pansies? ›

Pansies experience considerable heat stress at average daily temperatures, or a24-hour average temperature, above 80¡ F; however, pansies can continue tophotosynthesize and grow at mid-day temperatures greater than 90¡ F.

What is the most popular color pansy? ›

The most popular color, yellow, is the obvious one. Yellow works well because it is such a strong beacon. The color contrasts highly against the dark green foliage, so the yellow transmits both far and fast.

What color flowers look best together? ›

When used together, complementary colors intensify each other. Red flowers, for example, look brighter against a green background. The red foliage of the coleus makes the green moss stand out.
For example:
  • Blue complements orange.
  • Green complements red.
  • Yellow complements violet.

How deep do pansies need to be planted? ›

Plant pansies in holes the same depth as the pot and space plants 6 to 10 inches apart in all directions. A newly planted pansy bed looks bare, but the plants quickly fill in the spaces once they establish and begin putting on new growth.

Is Epsom salt good for pansies? ›

Mattson – who adds Epsom salt to his fertilizer for plants such as roses, pansies, petunias and impatiens – says gardeners can proactively mix Epsom salt with fertilizer and add it to their soil monthly, or they can mix one tablespoon with a gallon of water and spray leaves directly every two weeks.

How many times a week should you water pansies? ›

Potted Pansies have watering needs similar to new plants. Container-grown plants dry out more quickly, so plan to water daily. Potted plants may need to be watered twice daily if the plant receives high amounts of light or during hot weather or a time of drought.

How many times a day do you water pansies? ›

For pansies in containers, if the temperatures are warm, they may even need to be watered twice a day. Always check the soil if in doubt. If the top inch of the soil is dry, you will want to water. Watering early in the day is better–this allows the foliage to dry, and dry foliage means less chance for disease.

How do I get more blooms on my pansies? ›

Fertilize them every two to three weeks with a bit of liquid fertilizer to encourage root and plant growth. Phosphorus fertilizer, like bone meal, will also help promote flowering. Also, to encourage blooming, don't be afraid to deadhead what little blooms you may have or even prune leggy parts of the plants.

Do squirrels eat pansies? ›

This week in the garden University of Memphis Director of Landscaping Joellen Dimond finds some uprooted pansies that have been partially eaten. She says squirrels eat pansies. They will uproot the plants and possibly eat the entire plant.

How many years do pansies come back? ›

Pansies are technically short-lived perennials. Short-lived perennials are not exactly biennials, as they can come back for multiple seasons. But they are shorter lived than other perennials, meaning they only make it 3-5 seasons.

What do overwatered pansies look like? ›

Initial symptoms include dying leaves, plant discoloration, stunted growth and dieback. The cultural ramifications of overwatering often include plant death. The plant essentially suffocates and starves due to a lack of oxygen in addition to its state of malnutrition.

Do pansies spread? ›

Cool Wave Pansies have a trailing or spreading growth habit, as opposed to the traditional upright growth habit of most pansies, violas and panolas. The bloom size is a bit smaller than the larger blooming pansies, however, the trailing/ spreading growth habit of these plants makes them perfect for pots.

Can pansies get too much sun? ›

Sunlight Needs for Pansies

Placing them in partial shade will give them a break from the hot afternoon sun which can be strong even earlier in the spring months. Too much sunlight will make the pansies stop producing flowers.

Are violas better than pansies? ›

Violas will be full of petite blooms. The smaller blooms tend to not get weighed down or affected by weather as easily as larger pansy and panola blooms do. They are also more cold-tolerant and heat-tolerant than pansies. They are the hardiest of all three but have the least color options.

What can I do with pansies and violas? ›

Regularly deadhead plants, removing the developing seedpod to prolong flowering. After flowering, cut back perennial violas to keep them compact. Trimming over pansies after flowering and giving them a liquid feed, may promote further flushes of flowers.

What flowers go well with violas? ›

Companions: Plant violas with low-growing grasses like blue fescue and some Carex varieties, fairy primroses, Iceland poppies, ferns, helichrysum, artemisia, heuchera, alyssum. In warm climates, they're a good over-planting for spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils and tulips.

Can I plant violas on top of bulbs? ›

Colour on top

Your layered planting can all be topped off with a few winter flowering pansies or violas so that you have immediate and lasting colour. They will bloom until the first bulbs start to bloom in late January and will continue to bloom with the bulbs too.


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