The winter pansies have arrived, lighting up the shelves of garden centres, supermarkets and DIY stores with joyous splashes of colour.
Few other bedding plants have rejoiced in such continued popularity as these little charmers. They never seem to go out of fashion.
Winter pansies and violas
Garden pansies are actually a type of viola (Viola x wittrockiana) and are derived by hybridisation of several species in the Viola genus, including Viola tricolor. Pansies tend to be bigger than normal Viola species, with rounder leaves and flowers.
Violas have a more compact growth habit and daintier flowers. Some varieties are sweetly scented.
Violas are just as popular for winter bedding these days, and in such a stellar array of colours they're hard to resist.
When to plant winter pansies
The earlier you can get your plants in the ground, the better.
Planting from late August-early October will allow them time to establish and grow while the soil is still warm. This will lead to more flowers during the colder months.
Where to plant
Winter pansies and violas work perfectly in borders, containers, hanging baskets and window boxes. They also mix well with spring bulbs, such as dwarf narcissi, hyacinths and tulips (as below).
When filling containers, add spring bulbs beneath pansies and violas for an extra pop of colour in the springtime.
Pansies aren’t very fussy about soil type and will grow well in full or partial sunlight and well-draining soil. But be aware, flowering is likely to be reduced in partially shaded conditions. They also will be weathering the harshest seasons of the year, so avoid locations that are likely to become waterlogged.
Pansies are sun-worshippers, although they will still give a reasonable show in partial shade.
Winter pansies don’t need any special maintenance throughout the winter months. They are fully hardy and don’t need any protection from frosts.
The most labour-intensive part of growing pansies is regularly deadheading so that plants focus their energy on flowering rather than seed production.
Come spring they may need a boost of high potash (potassium) food to encourage flowering, particularly in containers/hanging baskets, etc.
Remove seed pods before they ripen to encourage fresh flowers.
They might be tough as old boots, but pansies aren’t without their problems. Although cold weather in itself is not usually an issue, prolonged freezing combined with windy weather can dry them out. Even with winter rain and spring showers, containers may get missed, so remember to water if needed. Also, keep a lookout for:
Slugs and snails
Pansy leaf spot
Winter flowering varieties
There are many varieties of pansy available (by many, we’re talking hundreds!), so if buying seeds aim to get the ones that specifically say ‘winter flowering’. Here are also a few varieties of interest: