Pansies: Caring and Growing

Pansy Basics

Pansies are a biennial plant, so they flower every other year, and are in the same family as violets and violas. They’re suited to most North American climates, and are fairly cold hardy, flowering in the early spring and spreading quickly throughout the summer.

They are a fast-growing groundcover plant, so be mindful that they may pop up in other places in your yard than where you first planted them. Their flowers are often shades of purple, dark red, yellow and white, with contrasting centers, and specific varieties are often bred for varying colors such as gold, maroon and pink, so you can find pansies that blend well with any flowerbed color plan.

Pansies grow best in locations with full sun and rich, loamy soil that is well-drained.

Planting Pansies

New pansy seeds or seedlings should be planted in the spring. Space them between 7 and 12 inches apart to allow for their full growth. Plant seedlings by spreading their roots slightly, placing into pre-dug holes, and firming the soil around them.

Water soon after planting. If planting seeds, plant them about 1/8 inch deep in a mixture of loam and sand for good drainage and loose soil. The flowerbed should be deep enough for good rooting, about 9 to 12 inches deep.

Seeds should germinate in just 5 to 8 days. However, you should not expect the trademark pansy blooms until the following spring if you start the year previous from seed. The planting process for mature plants, whether bought commercially or transplanted, is quite different.

Plant them in the fall in the location you wish to have pansies in the spring. Be sure they are well-established before frosts arrive; about 4 to 6 weeks ahead of the first frost is a good guideline.

Caring for Pansies

Maintenance of pansies isn’t too difficult; they are tolerant little flowers that will reward you with lush growth if they are in the right location. Be sure they are in a spot that gets full sun – at least 6 to 8 hours of sun a day – and that their soil has good drainage.

Water in the mornings to let them absorb the water before the heat of the day evaporates it. If you have enough rainfall during the week, you may not need to water at all; they need just about an inch of water a week. Keeping a rain gauge can help you know how much water they’ve had already.

As the summer goes on, pinch off flowers that have faded or wilted, which will encourage the plants to produce blooms for longer. Fertilize with a 10-10-10 fertilizer, For granular fertilizer, use about one teaspoon per square foot of flowerbed.

For liquid fertilizers, follow the directions on the label. Apply fertilizer at planting time, and again in late fall. You also can apply it every 3 to 4 weeks during the growing season if you have poor soil or want a quicker-growing groundcover.

Pansies should be transplanted or discarded and replaced every three years or so, as they should not be planted in the same location longer that that to avoid soil-borne pests and diseases.

Pansy Pests & Diseases

The most common insects affecting pansies are leafhoppers, aphids, slugs, and violet sawfly. Diseases that attack pansies include anthracnose, which produces abnormal petals in young plants, and also shows up as brown areas surrounded by black edges.

Another pansy disease is gray mold, which happens when the plants are continually too wet; avoid it by providing good soil drainage and not overwatering. Leaf spot can also affect pansies, and shows up, unsurprisingly, as spots on leaves, which can widen and spread to flowers as well.

Pansies also can suffer from rust or beet yellows, both of which discolor leaves and can stunt plant growth. Soil-borne diseases can be avoided by using sterilized soil, following care guidelines, and avoiding injuries to plants while transplanting or planting.

These diseases include root and crown rots, and downy mildew. If your plants show disease signs, remove any affected leaves or flowers, and apply pesticides if needed.

Want to learn more about growing pansies?

Check out these Web sites chosen by us for more information on the subject:

The West Virginia University Extension Service has the facts on pansies.

This handy PDF guides you through various pansy diseases, from the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension.

Texas A&M University’s horticulture service provides a helpful article on choosing pansies for planting.

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