Pansies 101

The quintessential Winter flower…the pansy. Don’t be offended by being called one either!

What can make it through the cold days of winter and burst forth tiny florets of nearly every color all season long? PANSIES! What can be planted with cabbages, kale, chards, parsley, and mustard greens and bloom all Winter? PANSIES! What can be paired with snapdragons (plant now, cut back in December, and watch them explode in the Spring) and detonate your delight with blossoms throughout the cold months and dominate the Spring beds? PANSIES!

Viola x wittrockiana is the Latin name for these little faced flowers that are a powerhouse in the garden. They are totally edible, gorgeous on salads or desserts or frozen in ice cubes, smell lovely, and just rock all winter long with flowers while nothing else is cutting it! Think of a color and there is a hue of pansy for you. Their little sister plants, Violas, are just as impressive if not more so than their larger flowered siblings. Violas make a statement in pots, beds, baskets, and companion plantings all Winter long and last well into Spring.

So here’s the 101 on these rock stars of the plant world…good sun, good, soil, and good water…sounds easy and it is. Pansies and Violas are heavy feeders, meaning they like their garden food (fertilizer and such) and they like it often. Think about a cupcake…pretty good on its own, BUT…add some frosting and sprinkles and now you’ve got a CUP CAKE! Similar with Pansies and Violas - have a great bedding soil or potting soil (I use Jungle Growth or Miracle Growth or a mix of peat moss, compost, and soil conditioner with some Osmacote or fertilizer mixed in) to plant your pansies in. They like a well tilled or loamy soil that they can spread their little roots in the fluffy planting mediums mentioned above. These soils also provide good drainage which Pansies and Violas require. Also, keep the spent blossoms pinched off and more blooms will keep popping on out. Violas are more profuse bloomers than but like a trim of spent blossoms too.

Full winter sun (which may have been a shady spot the Summer before but now the leaves are gone) to partial sun is ideal for Pansies and Violas – the latter taking to shade a bit better than the former. I like to mound my annual color beds and Pansy beds are no exception. Till up the existing soil with the above mentioned soils and add more until you get a nice mound of soft fluffy dirt. The Jungle Growth and Miracle Grow have fertilizer built in, but adding a slow release fertilizer helps as well.

Take your little plants out of their nursery pots, tousle the roots and loosen them up, and plant them in their comfy little beds of good dirt. Since Winter is typically our rainy season, Pansies and Violas can survive off of rainfall. If we are particularly dry, a healthy sprinkle will keep your plants thriving…even a spot treatment of water soluble fertilizer or bloom booster will be rewarded. You can easily over water these little workhorses before under watering. Use a soil conditioner, yes like for your hair, to conserve the moisture in the soil and make an attractive topdressing or mulch.

So, consider it a complement to be a Pansy…even though other plant nerds and myself may only think so. They are great beginner plants to try in your garden. Experiment with some fun color combos (orange and lavender, yellow and blue, antique shades, all white with lime green parsley and huechera, tone on tones...the list goes on!) and give yourself a bit of color to dream with during your long Winter’s nap!

…Come to the woods where the pansies grow,

Come to the fields where the bluebells blow,

Come with me wherever I go,…

excerpt from the poem The Holiday