Pansies are short-lived perennials, popular for using in colourful pot and border displays. Their colourful flowers are often prettily marked in the centre and look like faces – sometimes with darker blotches, or ‘whiskered’, or plain. An enormous range of flower colours and variations includes blue, mauve, pink, purple, red, yellow, and white, they’re often bicoloured with a mixture of shades too. Pansies flower all year round but are particularly useful in winter, when little else is in bloom.
The pansy’s botanical name is Viola x wittrockiana. This can cause confusion as there are many violas also widely used for pots and borders. Generally, ‘pansy’ refers to viola varieties with much larger flowers, while violas have smaller blooms but produce more of them. Of the two, pansies are best for flowering in autumn and winter, while violas tend to bloom better in spring.
Plant breeders have developed many new varieties of pansy with improved colours and garden performance, including trailing pansies that are particularly good in hanging baskets and window boxes.
How to grow pansies
Pansies are easy to grow and are long-time garden favourites for creating colourful pots, window boxes, hanging baskets and borders. They do best in a fertile soil in sun or part shade: in pots, use a peat-free multi-purpose potting compost, and in the ground improve soil with well-rotted organic matter before planting.
Regular watering, feeding, and deadheading will keep pansies looking good and encourage more flowers.
Growing pansies: jump links
- Planting pansies
- Caring for pansies
- Propagating pansies
- Growing pansies: pests and problem-solving
- Best pansies to grow
Where to grow pansies
Pansies are very versatile and ideal for growing in all types of pot and container, either massed in a pot alone; mixed with other plants or used to underplant large shrubs. They do best in full sun to partial shade.
In borders, pansies can make a display on their own or mixed with other bedding plants. They’re also excellent for filling bare patches. They make perfect partners with spring bulbs such as tulips, as the bulbs grow up through and between the flowering pansies.
How to plant pansies
Plant pansies from late summer to mid/late autumn to bloom through winter and the following spring. They can also be planted in spring to early summer to bloom through the growing season.
Spacing depends on planting time as well as variety size. Planting from late summer to early autumn is ideal as there will be time to for pansies to become established before winter. Space them 15 cm apart for bush varieties, and 20-25 cm for trailing varieties. The same spacing applies for spring-planted pansies.
Pansies planted in mid-late autumn should be planted closer together (around 10 cm apart for bush pansies, 15 cm for trailing varieties,) as they won’t grow as much before temperatures fall.
Use a good quality multi-purpose potting compost for planting pansies in pots. In borders, add some well-rotted garden compost or a planting compost first, to improve the soil.
How to care for pansies
Keep pansies watered during dry spells, pouring the water onto the soil rather than spraying the foliage, which helps avoid spreading fungal diseases. From spring to autumn, feed fortnightly with a liquid fertilizer or make a single application of controlled release fertilizer.
Remove the faded and dead flowers regularly which encourages the plant to keep producing new blooms. Either pinch them off with your finger and thumb or use a pair of garden snips or secateurs to cut off the dead heads.
How to propagate pansies
Pansies can be grown from seed. Sow the seed under cover in February to April to bloom from late spring to autumn. To grow pansies for autumn and winter flowering, sow seed from May to July.
Growing pansies: problem solving
Spots and blotches on pansy leaves can be caused by fungal diseases. The spots can be confined to the leaves only, but occasionally the stems or the centre of the plant can also rot. It’s important to buy healthy plants to avoid bringing disease into your garden, so buy from a reputable source and inspect closely for signs of disease. If you notice leaf spots on your pansies, pick the leaves off and bin them. Avoid growing pansies in the same spot the following year as as the fungal spores can survive in the soil.
Pansy varieties to grow
‘Adonis’ bears large flowers in light shades of blue, with a darker blue centre over a white background. Plants are particularly hardy and can flower from May to September. Seeds can be sown from May to July and overwintered in a cold frame, ready to flower the following year.
Pansy ‘Freefall Lavender’
Viola ‘Freefall Lavender’ is part of the ‘Freefall’ series, which comes in a range of colours. It’s a trailing pansy with a vigorous spreading habit and medium-sized flowers, making it ideal for hanging baskets or the edge of a pot. It flowers well into winter and then again in early spring.
Pansy ‘Cat’s Whiskers’
The large, showy flowers of ‘Cat’s Whiskers’ have a beautiful veined pattern similar to cats whiskers and come in a range of colours. Plants are bushy and compact, and can easily be raised from seed. So seed from May to July and overwinter in a cold frame, ready to plant out the following year. They should flower from January to April.
Pansy ‘Ultima Morpho’
Viola x wittrokiana ‘Ultima Morpho’ is a has pretty purple flowers with a yellow, black-striped centre. Free flowering, it produces a mass of flowers in winter, 5cm across, on compact plants.
Pansy ‘Universal Series’
‘Universal Series’ bears large, eye-catching flowers in a mix of colours including blue, orange, yellow, red, purple and white, with various markings. They are often sold in mixed packs at garden centres.
Pansy ‘Tiger Eyes’
‘Tiger Eyes’ has unusual gold flowers, with each petal marked with thin black stripes – hence its name. The flowers contrast beautifully with deep-green foliage. Plants are bushy and compact, and can easily be raised from seed. A very hardy cultivar, ‘Tiger Eyes’ is suitable for summer or winter bedding displays.