Winter flowering pansies are short-lived perennials that are valuable for creating colour in pots and borders during autumn, winter, and early spring when little else is in flower. Masses of pretty flowers come in an enormous range of colours and variations including blue, mauve, pink, purple, red, yellow, and white, often bicoloured or with a mixture of shades. Depending on the variety, winter pansies grow to between 15 and 25cm high and wide. Although winter pansies are hardy, during cold, frosty spells they may cease blooming but will start flowering again as temperatures rise.
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 varieties with much larger flowers, while violas have blooms that are much smaller but produced in greater number. Pansies are best for autumn and winter flowers, while violas tend to bloom better in spring. Winter pansies are perennials and can last for up to two or three years, though usually they are treated as annuals and replaced by summer flowers.
How to grow winter pansies
Plant in autumn in containers and borders. Grow in fertile soil or potting compost in sun or part shade. Water during dry spells and feed regularly later in the season; and remove dead flower heads to encourage more blooms.
Where to grow winter pansies
Winter 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 a large shrub or conifer. Either full sun or partial shade is fine for pansies.
In borders, pansies can make a display on their own or mixed with other bedding plants. They’re also excellent for filling bare patches in borders. They make perfect partners with early spring bulbs such as narcissus, as the bulbs grow up through and between the flowering pansies.
How to plant winter pansies
Plant early if possible so pansies become established before winter – from late summer to mid-autumn is ideal. Winter planting is still possible as long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged, although plants won’t establish as well and may not be able to withstand colder weather.
Spacing depends on planting time as well as variety size. When planting from late summer to early autumn, space 15cm apart for bush varieties, 20-25cm for trailing varieties. For later planting, space close together (10-15cm apart) as they won’t make much growth over the colder months.
Use a good quality, peat-free multi-purpose potting compost for planting in pots. In borders, improve soil with well-rotted garden compost or a proprietary soil improver.
How to care for winter pansies
Keep watered during dry spells and especially when cold easterly winds are blowing, which can dry the soil. Pour water onto the soil rather than the foliage, to avoid spreading fungal diseases. From late winter, boost growth with a fortnightly feed of a liquid fertilizer.
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Remove the faded and dead flowers regularly which encourages the plant to keep producing new blooms. Either pinch off with your finger and thumb or use a pair of garden snips to cut off the dead heads.
How to prune winter pansies
To keep winter pansies growing for more than one season, trim back leggy stems in spring and summer.
How to propagate winter pansies
To raise from seed, sow winter pansies from late spring to mid-summer onto a tray of moist seed compost. Once seedlings have germinated and are large enough to handle, transplant to individual small pots or modular trays and grow on until large enough to plant out.
Pests and diseases
Spots and blotches on the leaves are usually caused by fungal diseases. The spots can be confined to the leaves only, or 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. Should your plants become affected by leaf spots, pick off and bin affected parts. In future years, grow pansies in a different place as the disease spores can survive in the soil. Regularly taking off dead flower heads and yellowing leaves will remove potential sources of infections.
Advice on buying winter pansies
Winter pansies are widely available as garden-ready plants. A cheaper alternative is to buy them as baby plants or 'plugs', by mail order in summer, to pot up and grow on. Growing from seed is the cheapest option
Always check plants for signs of disease or pests before planting