It just wouldn’t be fall without pansies or violas, but do not wait until late winter or early spring to plant these guys. These durable winter annuals bloom nonstop through snowy blankets and single-digit temperatures. They freeze only to start growing again when the weather warms a tad. Get an early start by planting in the fall and you will have an even grander display in winter and spring.
There are over 300 varieties of pansies. Many have been bred for color and flower size, some up to 4.5 inches in diameter. The pansy we grow and love today, “Viola x wittrockiana,” is a cross between the “Viola tricolor” — a native of Europe also known as the Johnny John-Up — and other Viola species.
We are usually more familiar with the blotched-faced panies found in most garden departments. But there are also two-tone pansies, such as the Jolly Joker, and clear-faced pansies like those in the Crystal Bowl series.
I’m still partial to Johnny Jump-Ups myself. The smaller flower is so delicate and wispy, but also a little more cold hardy than its relatives.
Soil temperatures are perfect right now for the root development of these annuals. If you wait too late, violas can still grow just fine, but may seem stunted.
Pansies and violas grow well in acidic soils. Limestone is usually not needed. In fact, they‘ve grown in my beds that have a low pH (5.5 or below). They do really well in beds that have been amended with peat moss or other forms of organic matter. Add about 3-4 inches of organic matter (compost) to new beds and mix to a depth of about 8-12 inches. Try to eliminate any weeds that may be growing so as not to compete with the newly planted pansies. These guys will grow in partial shade but flower best with full sun (at least 6-8 hours). If you have to choose between morning and afternoon sun, morning is best, but they’re adaptable.
Pansies and violas offer various ways to add color to your winter landscape. Plant drifts of single colors or masses of several colors mixed together. I love the single colors mixed with other edibles like cilantro and parsley (yes, that’s right, pansy flowers are edible and make a great addition to salads).
Remember that they only get about 8-10 inches in height and width — plant about 6-8 inches apart so they will fill in your area.
It’s a good idea to lay them out before you plant to get the correct spacing. The roots of annuals dry out quickly so when laying them out, always leave them in containers. Since pansies and violas do not need as much fertilizer as summer annuals, use a slow-release fertilizer at planting and again in late winter when growth starts to take off again.
Pansies can be found in a multitude of colors and faces — can’t wait to see what varities are available at the local nurseries this year!