How to Plant and Grow Pansies

Learn how to brighten up containers and gardens during the cooler months with pansies—and then overwinter them for a second round of color.

A long bench of pansies at the garden center is a sure sign—even to the beginner gardener—that spring has arrived. These cool-weather plants flood the landscape with cheer after a long winter, and if you live in a warmer region, they can also add a punch of autumnal color to a fading September garden. Many varieties can even overwinter to return the following spring.

The several different species of pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are actually viola hybrids. (Johnny jump-ups, or Viola tricolor, and Viola 'Jackanapes' are closely related, similarly hardy, and usually sold in garden centers at the same time.) These beloved biennials, often grown as annuals, are perhaps most well known for their "faces"—the distinct markings on their petals that British growers began to breed for in the 1800s. However, pansies can also be single-colored or streaked.

Pansies come in a variety of colors, ranging from cool hues like blue and purple to warm colors like orange, red, and pink. They're even available in black and white.

Pansy Overview

Genus Name Viola
Common Name Pansy
Plant Type Annual, Perennial
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 6 to 12 inches
Width 4 to 12 inches
Flower Color Blue, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Spring Bloom, Summer Bloom
Special Features Fragrance, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 10, 11, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Division, Seed

Where to Plant Pansies

Pansies are not challenging to grow. Rich, well-drained soil, steady moisture, and at least partial sun will yield favorable results. Newer varieties can even thrive in full sun, though they still prefer cooler temperatures. Be aware that too much shade can reduce the density of blossoms and make the plants spindly. Pansies also don't tolerate heat and humidity. Acidic or neutral soil is best.

Pansies can be used as borders or in larger masses, but don't count on them to serve as a solid groundcover, since they're more clumping than spreading. They pair well with spring bulbs like tulips, providing a colorful bridge from the earliest blooming bulbs to your summer flowers.

yellow tulips and pansies planted together
Peter Krumhardt

A technique gaining in popularity is to plant spring-blooming bulbs in fall in the usual fashion, then install pansies in the same bed, right over the bulbs. The bulbs will emerge and bloom as usual in spring. When their flowers die down, the pansies will just be starting their spring bloom, providing additional color while the bulb foliage ripens. This is a great way to enjoy more color from your beds until it's time to plant summer annuals.

Invasive Plant

Pansies are considered invasive in Alaska, where they may crop up along roadways or in disturbed areas, potentially taking moisture and nutrients from native species. The upshot is that pansies struggle to compete with the state's established species.

How and When to Plant Pansies

The prime times for planting these cool-weather beauties are early spring and fall. Although they can tolerate frost, try not to plant pansies when nighttime temperatures are well below freezing.

In warmer regions of the country, they'll continue to grow and bloom all winter and into spring. Pansies are hardy in parts of the northern United States and southern Canada, so you can overwinter them as far north as Zone 4. That means if you plant them in the autumn, pansies can last up to eight months, from September to April or May, providing colorful blooms for much of that time. They usually aren't very pretty in the dead of winter, but their spring blooms can be even more robust when the plants have been in the ground since fall.

It is possible to start pansies from seed. However, it's much easier to purchase established plants, though they don't have a long shelf life in cell packs. Pansies stretch out quickly, and once they do, they tend not to perform well when planted. Seek out compact plants with richly colored foliage (minimal yellowing) and lots of buds, but not many flowers. Don't be thrown off by the lack of color—these are the ones you want!

When you find good cell packs, pop a few plants out and look at the roots. They should be white, not brown, and well-developed throughout the whole soil plug. Garden centers often sell older, stretched-out plants at a discount but resist the temptation to buy them. You'll find a better selection of healthy plants earlier in the fall season, so don't delay. (September is when pansies begin to appear in nurseries in most regions.)

Many gardeners swear by field-grown pansies, which are sown outdoors and lifted into flats when ready for sale. The same selection criteria apply to these plants.

Space pansies 6 to 12 inches apart in flowerbeds, adhering to the larger end of this range if your variety produces sizable blossoms. Dig a hole that's twice as wide as the root ball and deep enough that the crown of the plants will be level with the ground. Make sure to switch your planting location after three years to avoid a build-up of a fungus called Pythium.

Pansy Care Tips

These colorful plants are easy to grow and admirably hardy in cold weather. In fact, they're so undemanding that they're often recommended as a starter plant for pint-sized gardeners.


Pansies can grow anywhere on the spectrum from part shade (2 to 6 hours of sunlight) to full sun (6+ hours of sunlight). Avoid full shade, since the lack of light can lead to leggy plants and a deficit of blossoms. Ideally, you'll plant them in a spot that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.

Soil and Water

Pansies prefer moist, well-drained soil that's slightly acidic (5.6 to 6.0 is the optimal pH for in-ground pansies), though they can also grow in neutral conditions. To create a nutrient-rich environment, amend the soil with organic matter—manure, compost, or peat moss—or add a 5-10-5 fertilizer to the soil before planting. Consider testing your soil each year to make sure the pH and nutrient levels are in the right range for growth.

As cool-season plants, pansies perform best when soil temperatures are between 45℉ and 65℉. Make sure to plant them in a new location every other year to avoid a buildup of Pythium, a fungus that can cause root rot, in the soil. Never plant them in the same spot for more than three years.

To keep the soil sufficiently moist, give pansies a thorough drink—about an inch of water—once a week after planting. Once they're well-established in the fall and winter, you can switch to watering only when they're dry or before you apply fertilizer. In the spring, conditions may be wet enough that you don't need to water them regularly.

Avoid watering in the late afternoon or evening, and don't water from overhead or directly onto the leaves—these practices can increase the risk of disease. Focus instead on soaking the base of the plant.

Temperature and Humidity

Pansies peak when temperatures are mild—about 40℉ at night and 60℉ during the day. Anticipate the most blossoms in the cooler months of spring and fall. In warmer regions, blooming may continue into the winter. The flowers will fade during the hot months of summer, and the plants don't tolerate humidity.

While pansies can withstand frost, they will become stressed after repeated freeze-thaw cycles. You can protect them when the temperature plummets by placing pine boughs, straw mulch, or white landscaping fabric on the ground around them.

purple and dark yellow pansies planted together
Jason Donnelly


Adding a granular, slow-release 5-10-5 fertilizer to the soil before you plant your pansies can help create a nutrient-rich environment for growth. (You can also use manure to condition the soil.) Avoid formulations with high levels of nitrogen, as this can lead to soft leaves and predispose your plants to rot.

After watering your pansies, apply the fertilizer again in the late fall and early spring, around March. If you apply it every four to five weeks throughout spring, your pansies will have plenty of nutrients to fuel their growth and flowering. Typically, you'll need about 1 pound of granular fertilizer per 50 square feet of pansies. Liquid fertilizer is also acceptable.


Pansies respond well to regular deadheading. Every couple of days, if you can, pinch off faded blooms and any fruit (small green seed capsules) that may be forming. This will spur plants to continue blooming. You may also cut pansies back by a third to stimulate new growth and prolong blooming.

Heat causes pansies to become leggy and stop blooming. When summer warmth begins to take its toll, go ahead and dig up your pansies to make way for summer annuals.

Potting and Repotting Pansies

These easy-to-care-for plants are a great option for container gardens. Ideally, your pots will be small enough to easily relocate, enabling you to move them away from hot spots when summer arrives. If you plan to leave them outside in the winter, look for a frost-proof container. It should have drainage holes so excess water can flow out.

Simply fill the container with potting soil, and plant the pansies about 6 inches apart (though you may want to go a little closer for a fuller look). Place them in a south-facing spot during spring and fall. In the summer, an east-facing location will shield them from excess sun.

multicolored pansies with purple, white, and light orange flowers
Peter Krumhardt

Overwintering Pansies

If you want your fall-planted pansies to re-bloom in the spring, you'll need to give them a little extra TLC over the winter. The more established the plants are, the better they'll withstand cold winter conditions. That means planting in September, if possible. The farther south you are, the wider your planting window—October may be acceptable in warmer zones. But in Zones 4–7, early planting is key if you plant to overwinter your pansies.

Healthy plants establish more quickly, rapidly growing the root system critical to winter hardiness. Generally, varieties with medium-size flowers overwinter better than large-flowered types, but there are several exceptions. In any case, obtaining the very hardiest cultivars is only a concern in northern areas such as Zones 4 and 5.

As snow and ice begin to melt, overwintered pansies may succumb to root rot; reduce the risk by planting them in a well-drained spot.

Pests and Problems


Pests are not a significant issue with pansies. However, slugs and snails are attracted to the plants, so control may be necessary from time to time. Aphids and spider mites can also crop up occasionally. Healthy plants and good growing conditions (ample sun, fertile soil, and good drainage) will minimize pest problems.

Leaf Diseases

Leaf diseases, particularly mildew (both powdery and downy), are common amongst pansies. Pansies may also develop anthracnose, a fungal disease that starts with yellow leaf spots, surrounded by a black border; left unchecked, this problem can kill your pansies. Immediately remove infected leaves, and reduce the risk of disease by watering at the base of the plant.

Many other types of fungi can cause leaf spots, ranging from tan to brown to black, in pansies. The important thing is to quickly pluck off infected leaves, water at the plant's base, and spread mulch to avoid splashing the fungus onto the foliage.

Other Fungal Diseases

The occasional plant will die from root and crown rot, so take care not to bury the stems or crowns when planting. (The fungus Pythium is one such cause of the issue.) Yellow leaves are a sign of fungal infection; diseased pansies may also wilt then abruptly die. Any infected plants should be destroyed. To avoid this issue altogether, pick planting locations that are well-drained, and avoid overwatering. Adequate spacing will also reduce the risk of rot.

Botrytis blight, or gray mold, may also affect pansies. It's characterized by a fuzzy gray layer on flowers and stems, which may become slimy as they decay. Deadheading spent blossoms and ensuring adequate air circulation around plants can reduce the risk of gray mold.

dark purple pansy flowers in garden
Justin Hancock

How to Propagate Pansies

Although it's probably easier to buy seedlings or mature plants, you may propagate pansies from seed or through division. Stem cuttings are another method of propagating pansies, but this is not recommended for the home gardener.


It's possible to gather seeds from the pansies in your garden, but be aware that the seeds probably won't produce the exact plants in your garden. Letting pansies produce seeds will also mean smaller (and fewer) flowers, since the plant's energy is being directed elsewhere. Purchasing high-quality seeds will yield stronger plants.

For fall and winter flowers, plant seeds inside in late summer, typically in July or August, depending on your location. Press the seeds into seed-starting mix and bury them, since germination requires darkness. Cover the tray with opaque plastic, and keep the soil moist. Once germination occurs, relocate the tray to a sunny spot until it's time to transplant. You can move them to your garden beds once the heat has broken, about 6 weeks after planting. (You also want to make sure they have roughly 6 weeks outside before the first fall frost.)

For spring flowers, sow the seeds indoors in late winter, about 8 to 10 weeks before the final spring frost. You'll have to be patient: It can take up to 3 weeks for seedlings to break through the soil. Plant seedlings in the ground when soil temperatures range between 45℉ and 65℉.


If you cut back your pansies at the end of summer or the beginning of fall, you can later divide them. About 6 weeks before the first fall frost, dig them up and divide them into clumps, making sure each section has roots and new growth. Allow the divided pansies to recuperate in a coldframe for a few weeks, then move to the desired location. Note that these plants may not be as strong as those purchased at a nursery.

Types of Pansies

'Majestic Giant'

Majestic Giant pansies
Peter Krumhardt

This free-flowering series is able to endure both heat and cold. The large 3- to 4-inch flowers feature the signature pansy "faces." This type overwinters well and can re-bloom in the spring.

'Jolly Joker'

Jolly Joker Pansy
Photo: Kim Bergstrom/Getty Images

This luxurious-looking variety pairs velvety purple petals with vibrant orange faces. The 'Jolly Joker' cultivar is compact, reaching about 6 inches tall and 8 inches wide.

'Plentifall' Mix

Plentifall Pansies
Courtesy Ball Horticultural Company

The 'Plentifall' trailing series grows outward in a flat pattern, working well as a groundcover or as a spiller in container gardens. These fragrant plants grow up to 8 inches tall and spread up to 18 inches wide.


Peter Krumhardt

'Padparadja' pansies are a rare orange variety, known to withstand heat well. They don't have any contrasting markings, making them a bold and unusual cultivar.

Pansy Companion Plants


heckel daffodil white flowers close up view
Matthew Benson

Daffodils are a sunny addition to any early-spring garden, blooming alongside cool-season pansies to create a marvelous display of color. Bulbs should be planted in the fall, usually around September or October, to ensure a spring show. Although yellow is the most well-known color, daffodils also come in white, orange, bicolor, and pink.

Grape Hyacinth

grape hyacinths growing in field

Justin Hancock

Can anyone argue with the scent of grape bubblegum wafting through the garden? These petite bulbs yield a burst of blue, purple, white, or yellow around the time the last snow is melting, making grape hyacinths a beautiful counterpart to pansies.


Allison Miksch

Dianthus, also called "pinks," feature lovely fringed petals in a range of colors. Like pansies, they perform best when planted in the cooler months of fall and spring. Consider pairing the two plants in a container for a vibrant cool-season patio planter.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are pansies edible?

    Yes, in small amounts. They don't have much flavor, but you might detect a hint of mintiness. Pansies may be toxic if consumed in large quantities, so treat them as edible accents.

  • Can pansies be grown indoors?

    Pansies can be houseplants, but they probably won't thrive the same way they do outside. Keep in mind, these plants love cool temperatures, so if you keep your house on the warmer side, they may not perform well.

  • Are pansies deer-resistant?

    Unfortunately, no. Deer love to munch on these cool-season flowers and can severely damage them. Try not to plant other deer favorites around your pansies to reduce the odds of attracting the animals.

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