How to Grow and Care for Pansy and Viola

Pansy, Viola x wittrockiana

Violas and pansies are early spring to mid-summer bloomers. Pansies can grow to 8 inches (20cm) tall and have 2- to 3-inch (5-7.6cm) wide flowers. Violas are similar to pansies but smaller. Petal colors of both can be solid in shades of blue, purple, yellow, orange, and red as well as bi-color and tri-color blossoms. Leaves are oval, serrated, and green.

The blossoms and leaves of pansies and violas are unharmed by light frost. Plant in spring in cold-winter regions; grow as winter bedding plants in Zones 9-11.

Use pansies as edging plants, massed in beds, window boxes, and containers. Plants take only a few weeks to become established.

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English violet, Viola odorata
English violet, Viola odorata

Get to know pansy and viola

  • Plant type: Perennials; usually treated as cool-season annuals
  • Growing Zones and range: Grown as an annual in all zones; can be grown as an annual in Zones 6-9
  • Hardiness: Tender, prefers cool weather 30° to 70°F (-1.1°-21°C); killed by prolonged heat greater than 90°F (32°C)
  • Height and width: 3 to 12 inches (7.6-30cm) tall and wide, depending on the type
  • Foliage: Mid-green leaves are heart-shaped or oval, sometimes deeply lobed with stipules
  • Flowers: Flat five-petaled flowers, 1 to 5 inches (2.5-12.7cm)
  • Flower colors: White, yellow, black, brown, lavender, purple, many shades of blue and pink and red, some splotched
  • Bloom time: Spring through fall between the first and last frosts; bloom all year in moderately cool temperatures
  • Uses: Bedding, front of borders, containers, baskets
  • Common name: Pansy, Viola, Violet
  • Botanical name: Viola spp.
  • Family: Violaceae
  • Origin: Varied habitats in temperate regions worldwide
 Viola tricolor, Viola cornuta
Tufted pansy, Viola cornuta

Where to plant pansy, viola, violet

  • Plant pansies, violas, and violets in full sun in Zones 2-7; plant in light shade in hot summer regions of Zones 8-9.
  • Grow pansies, violas, and violets in humus-rich, well-drained but moist soil.

Pansy, viola, and violet uses and companions

  • Mass pansies, violas, and violets in beds, especially with spring-blooming bulbs.
  • Pansies, violas, and violets are colorful in containers, hanging baskets, and rock gardens.
  • Good garden companions for pansies and violas include Doronicum, Helleborous, Hosta, Polygonatum, Pulmonaria, Trillium.

When to plant pansy, viola, violet

  • Start seeds indoors in temperatures between 55° to 70°F (12.8°-21°C).
  • Set pansies, violas, and violets in the garden a few weeks before the last frost in spring. In Zones 8-11, plant in autumn for spring bloom.
  • Sow seed outdoors in late spring or summer in northern regions; sow seed outdoors in fall in Zones 9-11.
  • Sow seed in a cold frame during cold weather for setting outdoors a week or two before the last frost in spring. Set seedlings outdoors when about 3 inches (7.6cm) tall.
 Johnny Jump Up, Viola tricolor
Johnny Jump Up, Viola tricolor

Planting and spacing pansy, viola, violet

  • Start seed indoors in flats or 6-packs with dampened seed starting mix.
  • Seed can be pregerminated before planting by wrapping the seed in a moist paper towel and place inside a plastic bag at room temperature for about a week.
  • Sow seeds 1/8 inch deep; space seeds 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5cm) apart in bright light but not hot sun.
  • Space pansies, violas, and violets 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) apart.
  • Add aged compost to the planting bed ahead of planting.
Space pansies 6 to 8 inches (15-20cm) apart at planting time

How to water and feed pansy, viola, violet

  • Pansies, violas, and violets need abundant moisture. Keep the soil evenly moist.
  • Fertilize pansies, violas, and violets by adding a slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time.
Canada violet, Viola canadensis
Canada violet, Viola canadensis

Pansy, viola, violet care

  • Mulch around pansies, violas, and violets to conserve soil moisture.
  • Keep the soil evenly; do not let the soil dry out. Water often during hot weather to keep plants cool.
  • Mulch plants with leaf mulch to keep the soil cool and damp in hot weather.
  • Fertilize lightly at planting time with an all-purpose fertilizer; feed plants every 6 weeks during the growing season.
  • Pinch away spent blooms to encourage new blooms.
  • Protect plants with a mulch of chopped leaves in winter; pull mulch back in spring
  • Repel slugs with wood ashes or diatomaceous earth or trap them in partly submerged pans of beer.

Growing pansies in winter

  • Pansies can be grown in mild to chilly winter regions, Zones 4 to 9.
  • To grow pansies in chilly winter regions, grow Viola hiemalis. Viola hiemalis is a hardy pansy that can tolerate winter cold. Viola hiemalis is also known as winter flowering or ice pansies. The Latin term “hiemalis” refers to wintertime.
  • The ideal soil temperature for V. hiemalis between 45° and 65°F (7.2 °–18 °C).
  • V. hiemalis can survive frost and cold.
  • Sow seed indoors 10 weeks before the first frost or transplant out well-rooted plants from the garden center.
  • Keep the soil evenly moist, but not wet. Keep pots out of the rain or plant in slightly raised mounds that are well-drained.
  • Feed pansies with a water-soluble fertilizer regularly to promote blooms.
  • Spread an organic mulch around pansies; this will keep soil from splashing on plants during rain and also insulate the soil during cold weather.
  • Deadhead spent blossoms regularly; this will encourage new blooms.
  • Watch for snails and slugs and handpick and destroy them before they eat the leaves.
Bird's foot violet, Viola pedata
Bird’s foot violet, Viola pedata

Pansy, viola propagation

  • Grow from seed in early spring for summer blooms; start seed in late summer for autumn and winter bloom in Zones 9-11.
  • Seeds germinate in 10 to 21 days at 65° to 70°F (18°-21°C).
  • Fill flats or six-packs with dampened seed starting medium, space seeds an inch or two apart and 1/8 inch deep.
  • Seeds can be pre-germinated before planting by wrapping them in a moist paper towel and keeping it inside a plastic bag at room temperature for about a week. Plant germinated seeds immediately (you may need to pick up seeds with tweezers).
  • Divide crowded plants that survive winter; divide in spring when new growth begins; plant divisions 2 inches (5cm) deeper than they grew previously.
  • Take cuttings 6 inches (15cm) long in spring; root cuttings in moist soil in shade.

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Wood violet, Viola sororia
Woodland violet, Viola sororia

Pansy, viola, and violet varieties to grow

  • Viola canadensis, Canada violet: Native wildflower grows 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) tall with heart-shaped leaves; bears 3/4 inch white flowers with yellow eyes in spring; Zones 3-8.
  • V. cornuta, viola, tufted pansy, horned violet: Annuals in all zones; grows mounded with wavy, toothed somewhat oval leaves; grows 5 to 12 inches (12.7-30cm) tall; lilac-blue flowers that look like small pansies; several cultivars with 1 inch wide flowers; recent cultivar have larger flowers with shorter spurs in solid colors or purple, blue, yellow, red, and white; Crystal strain has especially large flowers.
  • V. hiemalis, ice pansy, winterblooming pansy. Cold hardy pansy variety with flowers slightly smaller than many hybrids, but more blooms; can survive frost and snow.
  • V. labradorica, Labrador violet: Species grows 1 to 4 inches (2.5-10cm) tall spreading via prostrate stems; kidney to heart-shaped leaves with pale purple 1/2 inch wide flowers; good as a groundcover.
  • Viola odorata, sweet violets, English violet, garden violet: Rhizomatous species grow to 8 inches (20cm) tall; round to heart-shaped leaves; 3/4 inch wide fragrant lavender-blue or white flowers; cultivars with white flowers; Zones 6 to 8.
  • V. pedata, bird’s-foot violet: Native wildflower grows to 6 inches (15cm) tall and spreads to form 1-foot-wide (30cm) mounds; deeply cut leaves with narrow lobes resemble a bird’s foot; bears 1-inch-wide pale lavender blooms.
  • V. sororia: woodland violet; heart-shaped leaves; small white flowers flat-faced like pansies.
  • V. tricolor, Johnny-jump-up: Annual or short-lived perennial with 1-inch-wide flowers often with deep violet, purple, white, or yellow in a facelike pattern; grows 2 to 6 inches (5-12cm) tall; it reseeds easily.
  • V. x wittrockiana, pansy: Cool-weather annual grows 6 to 9 inches (5-17.7cm) tall with flowers 2 to 4 inches (2.5-10cm) wide, colors include violet, maroon, bronze, yellow, orange, lavender, deep purple, lilac-blue, and white; several cultivars including ‘Crystal Bowl Series’ which come in an array of solid colors.

Viola cornuta — Horned violet, tufted pansy

The horned violet looks much like a small pansy. It is a hardy perennial that originated in the Pyrenees Mountains. The 1- to 1 ½ inch-wide rounded flowers have five petals, a short spur, and may or may not have pansylike faces. Flowers form on single stems from the leaf axils, transforming the tufted mounds of egg-shaped leaves into a mass of color during spring and early summer and again when the weather cools in fall.

  • Size: 5 inches to 1 foot tall and as wide.
  • Light: Light to part shade; full sun where cool.
  • Soil and moisture: Humus-rich, fertile, moist soil; Plentiful moisture.
  • Planting and propagation: Plant bare-root or container-grown plants in spring, spacing 1 foot apart. Divide in spring or fall.
  • Pest and diseases: Spider mites can be troublesome in hot weather; slugs and snails are often troublesome.
  • Climate: Zones 6-9; heat tolerant.
  • Cultivars and similar species: ‘Chantreyland,’ large faceless apricot flowers; ‘Jersey Gem,’ bright blue; ‘White Perfection,’ pure white; ‘Cuty,’ purple-and-white with face; ‘Nellie Britten,’ lavender-pink with face; ‘Etain,’ pastel yellow with lavender edges; ‘Arkwright Ruby,’ deep red with face; ‘Baby Franjo,’ light yellow; ‘Baby Lucia,’ sky blue; ‘Lord Nelson,’ deep violet; ‘Scottish Yellow,’ lemon-yellow; ‘Ulla Lack,’ dark violet, ‘Blue Perfection,’ sky blue.
  • Garden use: Use as edging or foreground plant; combines well with tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs.

Viola labradorica var. purpurea — Labrador violet

Labrador violet has both beautiful foliage as well as its flowers. The small, heart-shaped leaves, which grow on short main stems, are deep purple when they first emerge and usually lighten in summer. Violet-purple flowers bloom profusely in spring and sporadically throughout the growing season. This violet spreads rapidly by creeping rootstocks and self-seeding.

  • Size: 1 to 4 inches tall; 1 foot wide.
  • Light: Light to full shade; tolerates full sun if constantly soil; plentiful moisture.
  • Planting and propagation: Plant bare-root or container-grown plants in spring, spacing 1 foot apart. Divide in fall every three years or when crowded.
  • Special care: Self-sows prolifically.
  • Pest and diseases: Usually pest free.
  • Climates: Zones 3-8.
  • Similar species: The species has green leaves.
  • Garden use: Excellent ground cover for foliage contrast in shade gardens and woodland settings. Tuck into rock and crevices of shaded rock gardens.

Viola odorata — Sweet violet

Sweet violet produces fragrant, short-spurred, purple blossoms on long stems that rise directly from the rootstalks. Flowers are irregularly shaped–made of five petals marked with dark veins and small beards near the flower’s center. Flowers appear just above the foliage from early to late spring. Semi-evergreen, heart-shaped leaves have bluntly serrated edges and are covered with fine hairs. The leaves also arise directly from the creeping rootstalks.

  • Size: 2 to 8 inches tall; 1 ¼ feet wide.
  • Light: Light shade best; tolerates full sun if constantly moist.
  • Soil and moisture: Humus-rich, well-drained, moist soil; plentiful moisture.
  • Planting and propagation: Plant bare-root or container-grown plants in spring, spacing 1 foot apart. Divide in fall when crowded.
  • Special care: Self-sown seedlings may become weedy, and creeping plants may be invasive.
  • Pest and diseases: Leaf spot can sometimes bedtroublesome.
  • Climate: Zones 6-9.
  • Cultivars and similar species: ‘Black Magic,’ black blossoms with yellow eyes; ‘Czar,’ deep violet; ‘White Czar,’ pure white; ‘Rosina,’ mauve-pink; ‘Queen Charlotte,’ dark blue; ‘Royal Robe,’ large long-stemmed, deep violet-blue flowers. V. cucullate (marsh violet): heart-shaped hairless leaves, purple-veined bearded petals, clump-forming, Zones 4-9; ‘Priceana’ (confederate violet), white with deep blue eye; ‘Freckles,’ pale blue dotted with purple.
  • Garden use: Plant in naturalistic settings such as shade and woodland gardens. Makes a pretty cut flower.

Viola tricolor — Johnny-jump-up

This little violet is named Johnny-jump-up because it re-seeds itself prolifically, jumping up where least expected. The narrow-branched stems bear small, heart-shaped leaves and bunches of 1-inch-wide, tricolored purple, blue, and yellow pansy-faced flowers in spring and summer. Viola tricolor is a short-lived perennial that is often treated as an annual.

  • Size: 8 inches to 1 foot tall; 4 to 6 inches wide.
  • Light: Full sun to light shade.
  • Soil and moisture: Fertile, humus-rich, moist soil; plentiful moisture.
  • Planting and propagation: Sow seeds in place in early spring, or plant nursery-grown seedlings in spring, spacing 1 foot apart.
  • Special care: Self-sows but is not weedy; pull out excess or transplant.
  • Pest and diseases: Usually pest free.
  • Climate: Zones 6-9; perpetuates itself by self-sowing in colder climates.
  • Cultivars and similar species: ‘Helen Mount,’ long-blooming flowers.
  • Garden use: Charming scattered about bolder flowers in cottage gardens and informal settings; combines well with spring bulbs.

Viola x wiitrockiana — Pansy

Viola x wiitrockiana is a flat-faced pansy flower available in an array of single colors, bicolors, and tricolors that include white, yellow, peach, cream, mahogany, red, orange, pink, lavender, purple, blue, and almost black. Flowers range from 2 to 7 inches across. These annuals do best in cool weather; heat-tolerant cultivars extend the bloom time somewhat.

  • Size: 4 to 9 inches tall and as wide.
  • Light: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil and moisture: Fertile, well-drained, organic soil; plentiful moisture.
  • Planting and propagation: Set out nursery plants several weeks before the last frost. Or sow indoors, at 65° to 70°F, 10 to 12 weeks earlier. In mid-winter areas, also plant in fall for winter bloom. Space is 4 to 6 inches apart.
  • Special care: Mulch to cool roots and prolong blooming. Remove spent flowers.
  • Pest and diseases: Anthracnose, crown rot, downy mildew, botrytis, leaf spot, powdery mildew, and slugs may be troublesome.
  • Climate: Hardy, cool-season annual in zones 2-11; winter annual in zones 9-11.
  • Cultivars: ‘Imperial’ series, mostly bicolors, many pastels, 6 inches high; ‘Crystal Bowl’ series, solid colors, 7 inches tall, heat tolerant; ‘Super Chalon Giant Mix,’ deep, rich bicolors and tricolors, ruffled; ‘Floral Dance,’ many bicolors and tricolors, 6 to 8 inches tall, cold hardy, ‘Universal,’ best for winter flowering, 11 colors; ‘Bingo Series,’ enormous upward-facing flowers, many colors; ‘Rally Series,’ upward-facing flowers, good winter annual in South.
  • Garden use: Use as a companion to spring bulbs in informal and cottage gardens; excellent in containers and cutting beds.

Pansy and viola frequently asked questions

Q: When should I plant pansies in the garden?

A: Pansies prefer cool weather, especially cool nights. You can plant them in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. If you live where temperatures do not drop below 20°F, you can plant and mulch pansies and violas in the fall for blooms in spring. Pansies will continue to bloom until the weather becomes hot.

Q: Can you suggest some pansy varieties that can withstand warm weather and some that can withstand cold temperatures?

A: Hybrid pansies are more heat-resistant than older types. Crystal Bowl is a multiflora that is both heat and rain resistant. Springtime is a multiflora and among the most heat resistant. Majestic Giant is a grandiflora. Mammoth Giant is a grandiflora but is not heat resistant. Roc is cold-tolerant and a good choice for fall planting. Universal is a multiflora and is very cold hardy.

Q: What is the difference between grandiflora and multiflora pansies?

A: Grandiflora pansies have large flowers. Multifloras have smaller flowers but a greater number of them. Multifloras bloom earlier than grandifloras.

Q: How do I start pansies from seed?

A: Start pansy and viola seeds indoors 14 weeks before the outdoor planting date. Place the seeds in the refrigerator in moistened growing medium for several days before sowing. Cover the seeds completely; they need darkness to germinate.

Q: How do I care for pansies and violas?

A: Grow pansies and violas in full sun or partial shade. Grow pansies in humus-rich, well-drained but moist soil. Fertilize them with an all-purpose organic fertilizer at planting time and again about one month later. If plants become leggy, pinch them back to keep them compact.

Q: Will pansies bloom indoors in winter?

A: For blooming pansies indoors in winter, sow seeds in mid to late summer. Transplant seedlings into individual pots and bring them inside before the first hard freeze. Place them in a light room with a big window with temperatures not warmer than 45°F. Pansies indoors are best grown in a cold greenhouse.

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