About Pansies and Violas
The pansy has been a popular flower for use in flower gardens, containers, and culinary purposes for centuries. They were first brought to North America by Europeans in the 1800s, though the popular hybrids we have come to love originated in England. As the popular wild pansy (Johnny Jump Up) was crossed with varieties of smaller flowers, more colors became available. These crosses have been stabilized for growth from seed and are available in shades of violet, blue, white, yellow, lavender, apricot, orange, and red. In addition to these beautiful colors, some also have unique markings on their petals.
Growing Viola and Pansies in Cool Climates
Plants of the Viola family, including the pansy, have likely grown in popularity because they can be grown in many zones across North America. Cool climates, such as zones 7 and below, can also enjoy these blooms during the spring season. When growing these flowers from seed, it is recommended that you directly sow the seeds in the fall and allow them to overwinter for spring germination. Otherwise, they should be started indoors 8-12 weeks before transplanting. Plants of the Viola family can take a long time to mature, making it ideal to utilize the natural seasonal changes to your benefit.
Growing Pansies and Violas in Warm Climates
In warm southern climates, Violas display their colors from fall into spring. The key to growing pansies (Viola) for winter color in zones 8-10 is to plant and germinate them in the fall. Pansies love the cool weather almost as much as I do. They do not handle heat well at all. Warm climates should grow these for blooms in their winter seasons. The best time to plant is when the soil is 45-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on your zone, this will fall between September and October.
Types of Viola
- Viola (Viola), aka Johnny Jump Ups - Violas and pansies are very similar in shape, color, and habit. Violas have more blooms per plant compared to Pansies, though they are much smaller. You can expect most viola blooms to be about the size of a nickel. Their height is also shorter ranging from 3-8 inches tall. This height, combined with its somewhat trailing habit, makes it ideal for growing in containers to create an overflowing look. While both Violas and pansies are hardy flowers, Violas take the cake as the most resilient to cold weather.
- Pansy (Viola wittrockiana) - Pansies are one of the most popular flowers around. Because of its popularity, it has taken on many meanings and associations. Some of the most common include remembrance of thought, loving feelings, and open-mindedness and imagination. Pansies are a type of Viola that have been bred to develop larger flowers. The markings on the petals are seen as a face to many people, encouraging the use of imagination. You can also expect pansies to grow taller than most other Violas reaching 6-12 inches tall.
- Panola (Viola x wittrockiana) - A hybrid cross between a Viola and a pansy. They display large blooms and prolific growth. You can expect Panola varieties to reach 6-8 inches tall and 8-10 inches wide.
How to Grow Pansy (Viola) Flowers Guide
To help prevent your seeds from sprouting prematurely, it is best to select a location that remains somewhat cool until the danger of frost is past. This is not a requirement as Violas can be somewhat frost tolerant, but it will increase your chances of success against fluctuating spring temperatures. To start, place or broadcast your seeds into your growing space when cool fall temperatures have set in. Gently press the seeds into the soil to prevent movement throughout the winter. Walk away until temperatures start to warm in the spring. When the soils thaw and are workable, begin watering. In areas with freezing winters, using cold frames will improve results.
If overwintering in 4-inch pots, plant your seeds and place your flat of pots in a protected area. Here in the Salt Lake Area (Zone 7), we have had great success storing the prepared flats under a deck, or other protected location, on the North side of a home. This prevents the wind, snow, or extreme fluctuations in temperature from damaging the pots before you are ready to check on them. About the time you are turning your sprinklers on for the season, you can set your flat out for some water until you are ready to plant. At this stage, be sure to check on your starts to make sure they are getting enough water. Plant when the ground is workable.
Transplanting in Spring
When growing Viola flowers to be transplanted in the spring or fall, sow 2-3 seeds in each prepared 4” pot. Thin to 1 seedling after germination. If growing plugs, transplant into 4” pots after 15-26 days. Be sure to use rich, well-draining soil. Germination takes place in 7-14 days at soil temperatures of 65-70 F (18-21 C). Grow flowers indoors for 8-12 weeks before the last spring frost for your growing zone.
Growing in the Spring
After transplanting, Viola flowers take about 60-70 days to maturity. They require full sun to part shade. In zones with hotter weather, we recommend planting in a partial sun location to extend the life of your blooms. Use Viola and pansy flowers in containers, cut flower gardens, beds, edible gardens, and to attract pollinators.
Edible Pansies - Viola
Viola flowers are edible. The flowers are often used for baked goods, as natural dyes, and for a minty addition to your salads. The leaves are also edible and can be added to soups as a thickening agent. I highly recommend you try some fresh pansy petals with your cookies for a touch of minty freshness.