By Margaret Wolf
CSU Extension Master Gardener
Pansies are often planted in late fall and early spring. Planting pansies in the fall helps them develop vigorous root systems during the winter, producing more blooms in spring. Pansies are winter hardy in zones 4-8. If there is a severe freeze, there is a risk of losing the plants, but they can survive light freezes and short periods of snow cover. In areas with prolonged snow cover, pansies survive best with a covering of dry winter mulch. Flowers appear in spring and fall when nighttime temperatures are 40 degrees and daytime temperatures are 60 degrees.
The name pansy is derived from the French word “pansee,” meaning “thought” or “remembrance.” The pansy is a delicate looking flower resembling a monkey face. The pansy or pansy violets are a large group of hybrid plants cultivated as garden flowers. Pansies are derived from Viola tricolor, which hybridized with other viola species. Violas and wild pansies were cultivated in Europe. The origin of the plants traces to Iver, Buckinghamshire, England in the early 1800s.
Pansy blooms are single with two top petals overlapping slightly, two side petals, and a single bottom petal with a slight indentation. Pansy flowers have one of three color patterns. Blooms can be a single, clear color, such as yellow or blue. A second pattern is a single color having black lines radiating from its center. These lines are called penciling and are similar to viola markings. The last type of flower is probably the most familiar with a dark center called a “face.”
Gardeners can choose pansy varieties based on the size of bloom and color combination. Pansies are available in solid colors of white, yellow, rich gold, bronze, deep rose, violet, maroon or a combination of colors. The size of pansy blooms falls into three categories: large, three to four inches; medium, two to three inches; and multiflora, one to two inches.
Pansies can be planted in window boxes, flowerbed borders, hanging baskets, strawberry pots and containers. The height of pansy plants is six to nine inches, with a spread of nine to 12 inches. Pansies will grow in a wide variety of soils, but grow best in a well-drained garden loam, rich in organic matter. Full sun is best. When there is too much shade, the flower size and numbers are reduced and the plant becomes spindly.
Plants may be grown from seed or seedlings, or mature plants may be purchased. Mature plants should be planted in their permanent location four to six weeks before frost on a spacing of seven to 12 inches.
For best growth, pansies should be watered thoroughly about once a week, depending on climate and rainfall. Do not water in late afternoon or evenings. Remove faded flowers for continued bloom. To maximize blooms, use a general, all-purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10. If soluble fertilizer is used, follow directions on the label. Apply fertilizer about a week after planting, again in late fall or early winter and again in March. Try planting some of the suggested varieties in your garden to add late fall and early spring color.
Alpenglow – cardinal shades Alpengluhn – mahogany-red
Berna – violet/blue Bruinig – mahogany-black, yellow border
Coronation Gold – canary yellow Eiger – yellow
Elite Mixture – mixed colors Fire Beacon – brick red
Giant Orange – orange/gold halo Grimsel – Mid-blue/deep purple
Hohenfeuer – orange Majestic Giant Mix – mixed colors
Lake of Thun – blue/dark center Raspberry Rose – pink with velvety blotch
Thunersee – deep blue White – pure white
Color Carnival – mixed French Giants Blue Dream – blue/yellow center
Sunny Boy – yellow/black face Moon Moth – pure white
Jumbo Pay Dirt – golden yellow Jumbo Mixed – mixed
The author has received training through Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.
Larimer County is a county-based outreach of Colorado State University Extension providing information you can trust to deal with current issues in agriculture, horticulture, nutrition and food safety, 4-H, small acreage, money management and parenting. For more information about CSU Extension, Larimer County, telephone (970) 498-6000 or visit www.larimer.org/ext
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