Chances are, if you're reading this article, Fall is here, or near, and many of your summer flowers are winding down for the season. But not all is lost...cool weather loving pansies are here to save the day and provide color in your landscape and gardens all winter long. When grown in container and pots pansies can brighten up patios, decks and porches during fall, winter, and well into spring.  

Here's some helpful pansy growing tips:

Scroll down for step-by-step planting instructions


Choosing a Container

First things first! When choosing a container for pansies or violas you should be mindful of air movement and drainage. In summer the best containers for air flow and drainage are clay and concrete pottery. Why is this not the best choice for fall and winter containers? In the fall and winter water will soak into a clay or concrete container. Then when there are freezing temperatures the water that soaks into the wall of the pots will freeze and expand most likely causing clay or concrete to crack. The more practical choice for a fall and winter container is a freeze-proof plastic, synthetic or glazed ceramic container. These types of containers will also provide enough air flow and drainage for the winter and are much less likely to be damaged by the winter freezes.

The next step in the process for choosing a fall and winter container is size. Pansies and most other fall and winter annuals don't grow very large root systems, which means they will need less soil depth and width and less water than your spring and summer annuals. If you have a large and deep container you can place a smaller container upside-down or some large rocks or chunks of styrofoam in the bottom of the container. Just make sure to leave 4 to 5 inches of soil space for roots to grow. 



Cultural Information

Drainage is important! 
Pansies hate wet feet; constantly soggy or wet soil, which can lead to root rot and other plant diseases. Once your plants have root rot there is very little you can do to reverse the damage. Therefore, it is essential that your pots have drain holes and that you use a well-draining potting mix. If your container does not have a drainage hole(s) drill one at 3/4-inch diameter. 

Soil
When planting pansies and other fall and winter annuals in a container it's best to use a premium or professional potting mix. Avoid using those cheap, dollar-a-bag potting soils. Reason being, potting mixes hold moisture more evenly throughout the pot while also providing sufficient drainage.

Light
Pansies will tolerate some shade but prefer lots of direct sunlight...as much as you can give them. AT least 6 hours of direct sunlight is recommended. You can grow them under deciduous shade trees because the leaves fall off to allow sunlight in.


Selecting Pansies & Violas 

Picking out your pansies and violas is the fun part! They come in just about every color you could imagine.

Not all pansies and violas are alike. Select varieties known to perform well in your region. Some have been bred to tolerate the warmer climates in the South while others to tolerate colder winters in the North. You're much more likely to find the right varieties at a local nursery and garden center that sells "local grown" than at big box stores which often have plants shipped in from all the way across the country.

The colors you choose are completely up to you, but here's some things to consider:

Choose colors that will compliment or go well with the colors of the pot or colors of structures or other plants in the surrounding area.

Colors tend to come in two different categories: hot colors and cool colors. 

Hot colors, such as red, orange and yellow express action and excitement. Place hot colors by doors, walkways and in far corners of the garden to draw attention to spots that might otherwise be overlooked. Cool colors, such as blue, pink and purple tend to calm and provide tranquility. They are great to use in spaces where you want to relax.

Color can also be used to visually change distance perspective. Warm colors and light tints, such as red, orange, yellow and white, advance an object or area toward the observer. These colors and tints placed near the foundation of a house would make the house appear closer to the street. Cool colors and deep shades like blue, green and black recede and can be used to make the house appear farther from the street.

When choosing colors, one very helpful tool is the color wheel. A color wheel is a diagrammatic way of showing relationships between colors. Colors on the right side of the wheel are warm. Colors on the left side are cool. Colors adjacent to one another are analogous. Opposite colors are complementary.


The first way of combining color is utilizing analogous colors. Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel and mix together easily. Some examples of analogous colors are yellow-orange, orange-red, yellow-orange-red, violet-red, blue-green, and blue-violet.

Next is complimentary colors. Using these can create more drama in the garden. To design with complimentary colors, simply look at the color wheel and choose the colors that are opposite of each other. Complimentary colors create a lot of contrast and cause both colors to pop. When designing with complimentary colors keep in mind that bright shades of any color look better with bright shades of a complimentary color, and the same for light shades. Also keep in mind that you'll want the color of the flowers to compliment the container.



Pansy & Viola Companions

There are many other types of cool season flowering and foliage plants you can use in combination with your pansies. Since pansies and violas are shorter growing annuals, I usually use something taller for centerpieces or backgrounds in the container garden, such as like Juncus grass or other ornamental grasses, flowering cabbage or kale, tall snapdragons, autumn fern, acorus, upright rosemary, or evergreen conifers such as Arborvitae or Dwarf Alberta Spruce. Many gardeners will plant flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips beneath the pansies. These flowering beauties will pop right through the pansies in spring. 



Step-By-Step Planting Instructions

STEP 1
Before filling your container with soil, we recommend lining the bottom with shade cloth or a porous landscape fabric. This will keep the drain holes from becoming stopped up with soil. 

STEP 2 (Optional)
If you are working with a large, tall pot, and are planting it with smaller growing plants, you can place a pot upside-down in your container to conserve on soil. 

STEP 3
Next, fill your container with the soil mix. Fill to the top of the container and then tamp so that the soil level is about an inch below the rim. If you want, mix in a slow- or timed-release flower fertilize with the soil at this time. Follow instructions on the product label for application rates. 

STEP 4
Remove your plant(s) from their nursery containers. 

STEP 5
Use one hand to pull back some soil in your container and the other to set a plant in the hole so that the top of the rootball is 1-inch below the rim of the container. Continue this process with any additional plants. 

STEP 6
If you did not add fertilizer to the soil mix, fertilize with a slow-release release pansy food or a water-soluble fertilizer that contains the "nitrate" form of nitrogen (the first number in fertilizer).

STEP 7 
Water thoroughly until water starts to drain from the holes in the bottom of the container. Add more potting mix and adjust plants if necessary if settling occurs during watering.

Step 7 (Optional)
Apply a 1/2" layer of wood chips or sphagnum moss to soil surface to help conserve moisture.


Caring For Your Pansies

When planted properly and with plenty of sunshine, pansies and violas are very easy to grow and care for.

Use the Right Fertilizer!
I recommend using a granular fertilizer for feeding plants. Pansies and violas prefer a specific type of fertilizer which contains the "Nitrate" form of Nitrogen. To be safe, go with a Pansy Food. Follow feeding instructions on product label.

Watering
After planting deep soak the soil in the pot. Thereafter, water only enough to keep soil moist, but not constantly soggy. I always allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out somewhat between waterings.

Pruning / Deadheading
I always keep the pansies and violas I have growing in containers deadheaded. This just means pinching or snipping off spent flower stems at their base. Doing so will keep your pansy garden tidy and encourage more flowers. If your pansies or violas become leggy, pinch the branches back by up to one-half their length making sure that the stem that remains has some leaves on it.



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