1. Q. I am doing a report about pansies. What do you know about pansies?

A. Practically everything! The pansy is a delicate looking flower often with a "face." The pansy is quite durable and a "flower for all seasons." Pansies are growing in gardens during the winter in the South or Southwest and during the summer in the North. The fragrant and edible blooms are desirable in gardens. Pansy popularity increases possible due to its ease of growing. Whether grown from seed or bedding plants, pansies are relatively disease and pest free blooming prolifically for the gardener's enjoyment.


The history of the pansy is linked forever to the viola, its ancestor. viola is a large genus containing 500 species according to Hortus Third. Violas were familiar to people living in Greece in the 4th century B.C. The center of origin for violas was continental Europe. The hardy but delicate viola was cultivated by the Greeks for herbal medicinal use and much later inspired William Shakespeare to write of romance.

Some time after the 4th century B.C. in Europe, an acute observer noticed a plant similar to a viola but growing in open areas with more sunlight. This plant thrived in alpine meadows and on rocky ledges. Someone named this plant a wild pansy. Possibly, it was a person living in France who noticed this plant because the word pansy is traced back to the French word pensee, meaning thought or remembrance.

Now known as Viola tricolor, this early wild pansy had two clear differences from the viola. The plant grew from the ground on one main stem and branched above ground. Viola plants branch below ground with many plants sharing the same root system. The wild pansy bloom was larger and more round than violas.

Violas and wild pansies were cultivated in Europe by many gardeners. The origin of the plants we now call pansy began in Iver, Buckinghamshire, England. In the early 1800's an inquisitive Lord Gambier and his gardener William Thompson began crossing various Viola species. Records tell us crosses were made among V. tricolor, V. Lutea and a blue flowered species possibly of Russian origin, V. altacia. These breeders selected plants for unusual colors, color combinations and increasing flower size. The initial results were similar to the V. tricolor. History credits the gardener, William Thompson, with the discovery of a cross that began the new species V. x Wittrockiana. He found a bloom that no longer had lines of dark color on the flower but huge blocks of color on the lower petals called the "face." Discovered in 1839 and named "Medora," this pansy and its progeny became popular with gardeners and breeders throughout Europe.

By 1850 many new strains of pansies were available to Europeans. Breeding occurred in England, Scotland and Switzerland. Hybridization was used to breed more plant vigor and flowers that had no dark blocks or lines. These clear pansies without a face were bred about the turn of the 20th century. Credit is given to a Scottish grower, Dr. Charles Stewart, for discovering the pansy with clear colors, no face.

Across the Atlantic, North American gardeners welcomed this newly bred flower. The pansy gained popularity rapidly. In an 1888 mail-order catalog, the pansy is described as "The most popular of all flowers grown from seed--our sales exceeding one hundred thousand packets a year." That's a lot of pansy seed, even in today's market.

In the last 50 years much of the innovative pansy breeding has been in Germany, the United States and Japan. New pansy colors such as shades of pink, rose or orange and unusual bicolor designs have expanded the variety of pansies available to gardeners in North America. The diversity of pansies will flourish as pansy popularity continues to grow.


Pansies are adaptable small, charming plants. At any time of the year, a pansy will be blooming prolifically outdoors someplace in North America. The vast majority of pansy bedding plants are grown in gardens for fall and winter blooms. Many regions in California grow pansies outdoors all year. It is certainly a "plant for all seasons."

In the Midwest and South, a pansy is used as an annual. Most years a pansy will not overwinter in the Midwest and will not oversummer in the South. In other regions of temperate climate a pansy may be a perennial.

Pansy blooms are single with five petals that are rounded in shape. Pansy flowers have one of three basic color patterns. Blooms can be single, clear color, such as yellow or blue. A second pattern is a single color having black lines radiating from its center. these lines are called penciling and are similar to viola markings. The last type of flower is probably the one most familiar to home gardeners. The bloom of this type has a dark center called a "face."

The pansy has one of the widest color ranges of any garden annual. Included in the wide color range are red, purple, blue, bronze, pink, black, yellow, white, lavender, orange, apricot and mahogany. the flowers may be of a single color or have two or three colors with a face.

The plant itself is compact, not more than 9 inches in both height and spread, and bears many stems. the medium green, coarsely notched leaves are oval or heart-shaped.


Gardeners can choose pansy varieties based on the size of bloom and color combination. The size of a pansy bloom will fall into three categories:

Large-3 to 4 inches (9 to 11.5 cm.)
Medium-2 to 3 inches (6 to 9 cm.)
Multiflora-1 to 2 inches (4 to 6 cm.)

Following is a list of cultivars based on flower size. the cultivars are listed in alphabetical order by name of series. A series has similar plant qualities in different colors. Each series differs in the number of colors and patterns available.


Accord series-Introduced in 1992, these pansies have large blooms on short sturdy stems. There are eight single colors, both faced and clear, and a mix. Abundant blooms are produced on strong plants.

Lyric series-Freedom of bloom and weather tolerance are two qualities of the Lyric series. It is available in five colors, all faced, or in a mix. It was bred in 1985.

Majestic Giant series-This series has withstood the test of time. Majestic Giant Mix and Majestic Giant White Face were 1966 All-America Selections Winners. The series has a free-flowering habit and stands up to heat and cold particularly well. There are six colors and a mix, all with faces.

Medallion series-The pansies in the Medallion series have extra large flowers in six colors, and a mixture. All have the pansy face.

Swiss Giants-Swiss Giant is an old-fashioned European pansy bred in Switzerland. The large flowers on long stems are good for cut flower bouquets. Many of today's hybrid varieties were developed from Swiss Giants.


Crown series-All clear colors, no faces adorn the nine colors and mixture of the Crown series. All are early flowering and bright spring colors.

Imperial series-A series prized for its non-fading colors and vigorous growth. Most of the blooms are faced. A longstanding favorite of gardeners is imperial Blue, an All-American Selections Winner in 1975. There are unique colors in this series such as pink shades.

Joker series-The striking color combination of Jolly Joker garnered it an A.A.S. Award in 1990. This pansy is a velvety purple with orange face. The plant has a compact habit and may grow 8 inches wide.

Roc series-This unusual name has two meanings - Roc refers to V. x Wittrockiana, the pansy botanical species. Roc also refers to the rock solid garden performance. Introduced in 1985, the Roc series contains nine colors with or without a face.

Springtime series-This series has a wide rainbow of 17 colors. The plants are heat and cold tolerant, resulting in a reliable performance.


Crystal Bowl series-All are clear colors without a face. There are eleven colors in this series. The compact plants do not sprawl in the garden.

Maxim series-The fourteen Maxim colors have faced flowers that bloom prolifically on compact plants. One of the series, Maxim Marina, is an A.A.S. 1991 Bedding Plant Winner. Its unusual flower color is light blue with a dark blue face that is outlined in white. All Maxims heat and cold tolerance.

Padparadja is a 1991 A.A.S. Winner named for the rare brilliant orange sapphire. The blooms do not fade under heat stress.

Universal series-These pansies have masses of early blooming flowers that may be clear colors or faced. There are 13 colors and a mixture. The plants have proven to be cold tolerant during southern winter conditions and heat tolerant in northern summers.


Another quality of interest to gardeners is fragrance. Some pansies have a delicate perfume-like aroma. Once you have smelled and identified the pansy scent, it is unforgettable, but it is not always easy to perceive. Pansies seem to exude more fragrance at early morning and dusk.

To have fragrant pansies in your garden, grow or buy the most aromatic pansies. The yellow or blue pansy flowers seem to have the strongest scent. Second, you may wish to grow yellow or blue pansies in mass plantings or numerous plants in a patio container. The idea is to concentrate the bouquet of many plants in one area. Lastly, go in search of the fragrance. Lean down to the plants to encounter this subtle pansy aroma. This wonderful fragrance may be another reason that pansies continue to increase in popularity.


Plan to sow pansy seeds indoors in the North about six to eight weeks prior to setting out. Pansies thrive in cool weather and will tolerate light frost or cold night temperatures.

Pansies can be grown very successfully in the South for fall and winter flowering. Sow seed indoors in mid-summer, six to eight weeks before transplanting. The pansies can be transplanted into the garden once the summer heat has been broken and cooler weather arrives.

Sow Seeds

Whether gardening in the north or south, the basic recipe to start pansy seed indoors remains the same. Start seeds in a clean container filled with a soilless germinating mixture. This will help prevent any problems with the fungi that cause seedlings to die from damping-off. The germinating mixture temperature should be about 60-65�F. If the air temperature is about 70-75�F. indoors, this temperature is fine for pansy germination because the mixture is always cooler than air temperature. Sow seed about 1/8 inch deep, cover lightly with the mixture, water gently, and thoroughly. Pansies need darkness to germinate. Experienced hands at seed starting often wrap the seed flat or container with plastic then cover it with damp folded newspaper. This doesn't mean the seed flat can then be ignored. check daily to determine if the mixture is still moist. Do not let it dry out. Gently add moisture to the soil with a mister or fine spray. Germination should occur in 10-20 days. As soon as the first tiny green shoots emerge, remove newspaper and plastic and move flats to a cool room with bright light.

Allow young seedlings to grow in a bright location. When seedlings have two sets of leaves, gently pull them apart and plant into a larger container--about 2 inches. Place pansy plants in a sunny location, grow cool (50-60�F.) and feed with a diluted water soluble fertilizer.

Bedding Plants

Gardeners who seek instant color in their garden will find packs and flats of pansies at their local nursery or garden center. Select the flower colors that suit your garden design. Choose plants that are stocky with dark green foliage. If there are just a few blooms but many buds, this is the right plant for your garden.

Bedding plants need the same soil preparation and garden care as do pansies grown from seed. Pansies perform best in a garden location that receives morning sun and has well-draining soil. If the soil is not ideal, it may be amended to increase drainage.


Use the same procedure for planting bedding plants. Space the holes about six to ten inches apart.

If you have not added organic matter to your soil to boost fertility, now is the time to add fertilizer. A granular or time release fertilizer can be incorporated into the garden soil as you are planting the pansies. By adding a granular fertilizer now, food is easily provided for the plants' long term garden performance.

The final step is to water the newly planted pansies thoroughly. Moving the pansies from container to garden is a stress on the plants; it is crucial that they receive plenty of water during this adjustment period.

Growing On

If pansies fail to thrive it is often because neither nature nor the gardener provided enough water. Mulching around the pansies with 2 inches of organic material will help conserve moisture, and reduce weed growth. Water the soil (not the plant leaves) deeply.

The most popular annual to beautify gardens in the Southeast during the winter is the pansy. If there is a sudden winter cold snap and pansies freeze there is a chance they will not die. Many hybrid pansies have a high tolerance for cold, can be frozen quite solid and the plants will not die. You may notice a purple cast to the pansy leaves. This is a sign of stress and can be a result of cold temperatures.


It is relatively easy to keep pansies free from damage caused by diseases and pests. Here a re a few of the more common problems that may be encountered.

Root rot-The first sign of root rot is yellow leaves. The plant then becomes stunted or dwarfed in stature.

Leaf spot-Leaves will develop spots of red, brown or yellow.

Mildew-Plants show white powdery deposits on leaf and stem surfaces. Plant leaves and stem may become stunted and brittle. Growing plants where they will receive adequate air circulation may prevent mildew.

The above diseases are best controlled by prevention. Check plants frequently during wet or humid weather as this is often when the first sign of disease appears. Avoid overhead watering which keeps leaves wet, providing an environment in which the diseases can flourish.


There are three pests which may harm pansies.

Aphids-These tiny soft bodied insects cluster on the growing tips of leaves and flower stems, sucking plant juices. The plants become stunted and deformed.

Spider Mites-These tiny insects also feed on plant juices. Pansy leaves will turn yellow and eventually drop off.

Slugs-These worm-like creatures feed on plant leaves and stems, often at night.

If any of these pests become severe problems, there are organic and inorganic solutions.

2. Q: What is the proper way to prepare a bed for pansies?

A: Add manure, leaf mold or compost to soil and turn it several times. In lieu of manure, bloodmeal can be worked into the soil. Pansies are gross feeders and need a rich bed. They like sun and prefer loose, organic soil.

3. Q: What is causing edges of leaves on pansy plants to turn brown? A: Probably over or under watering. Look at the root system. It is some type of cultural problem.

4. Q: Will pansies and kale survive 8 degree freeze?

A: Pansies will probably be ok if watered and well mulched. Kale probably won't make it without losing most of leaves. Suggest protecting the same as pansies.

5. Q: Should pansies be fertilized? With what?

A: Yes, use a balanced fertilizer or one with a slightly higher nitrogen.

| Parson's Archive Home | Aggie Horticulture |