Pansy Winter Care: Tips For Growing Pansies In Winter
By: Mary Ellen Ellis
They’re the quintessential cool weather flower, so can you grow pansies in winter? The answer is that it depends on where you live. Gardens in zones 7 through 9 may get some cold winter weather, but these little flowers are hardy and can persist through cold spells and add color to winter beds.
Growing Pansies in Winter
Whether or not you can successfully grow pansies outdoors in winter depends on your climate and winter temperatures. Areas much further north than zone 6 are tricky and may have winter weather that kills pansies.
When the temperature gets down to about 25 degrees F. (-4 C.), flowers and foliage will begin to wilt, or even freeze. If the cold snap doesn’t last too long, and if the plants are established, they’ll come back and give you more blooms.
Pansy Winter Care
To ensure that your pansies will persist throughout the winter, you need to provide good care and plant them at the right time. Established plants are better able to survive.
Pansy cold tolerance starts at the roots and they need to be planted in soil that is between 45 and 65 degrees F. (7-18 C.). Plant your winter pansies at the end of September in zones 6 and 7a, in early October for zone 7b, and the end of October in zone 8.
Pansies will also need extra fertilizer in the winter. Use a liquid fertilizer, as it will be more difficult for the plants to take up nutrients from granular fertilizers in the winter. You can use a formula specific for pansies and apply it every few weeks throughout the season.
Winter rains can prove to be damaging to pansies, causing root rot. Use raised beds where possible to prevent standing water.
Keep weeds at bay by pulling them and by using mulch around the pansies. To get more flowers out of the winter season, trim off dead blooms. This forces the plants to put more energy into producing flowers instead of producing seeds.
Pansy Cold Protection
If you do get an unusual cold snap, like 20 degrees F. (-7 C.), for a few days or longer, you can protect the plants to prevent them from freezing and dying. The simplest way to do this is to pile on a couple inches (5 cm.) of pine straw to trap in the heat. As soon as the cold weather is over, rake off the straw.
As long as you provide your pansies with good winter care and you don’t have weather that is too cold, you can successfully grow these cheerful flowers throughout the winter as you wait for spring to arrive.
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Hanging Pansy Care
Hanging baskets require more intensive care then other container plants. Air circulates around the entire planter and causes drying faster than garden or floor container gardens. Pansies provide a beautiful plant for use in hanging containers. This annual plant likes temperatures around 60 degrees F and prefers a full sun location. Hanging pansy care requires proper planting and maintenance tasks to keep the planter looking healthy and beautiful.
Hanging plants require new potting soil at initial planting to promote plant health. Fresh potting soil also contains a small amount of fertilizers and nutrients for healthy growth. Reusing potting soil places a plant at risk of exposure to soil borne disease and pests. For plants that overwinter in containers, remove the plant from the old soil. Shake the roots clean and dump the container. Rinse thoroughly, pour fresh potting soil into the container, and replace the pansy in the hanging basket.
- Hanging baskets require more intensive care then other container plants.
- Hanging plants require new potting soil at initial planting to promote plant health.
Pansies and cyclamen: Cold-tolerant winter blooms
Pansies are the most popular outdoor winter plants. The colorful foliage is very cold tolerant. File photo
Now that November has arrived, we are less likely to experience hot spells where temperatures exceed 90 degrees, which is important for some of our most spectacular winter bloomers.
Pansies and cyclamen respond poorly to high temperatures. They may react to the hot temperatures by declining quickly.
Pansies are the most popular winter annual. They provide blue, yellow, white, purple and orange blooms everyday through the end of May if they are planted in full sun now. They have more cold tolerance than petunias, dianthus, calendula, stocks and even snapdragons, so there is usually no cold-weather break in blooming in January like the others experience.
Pansies are available in several varieties based on bloom size and color pattern. The most common selections are the monkey-faced pansies. They have a black center within the colored flower. The monkey-faced varieties offer blooms that are half-dollar sized. The Majestic Beauty variety offers a monkey-faced pansy that has a larger bloom, nearly twice as large.
Clear-faced pansies have become more and more popular in area gardens. Their blooms are also about half-dollar sized.
Gardeners that want a smaller bloom size can grow the pansy cousins Johnny jump-ups and violas. Johnny jump-ups have nickel-sized blooms of yellow or violet. Violas have quarter-sized blooms.
Grow pansies in full sun (at least six hours) in beds or containers. Mixed-color beds are the norm, but single-color beds are very showy. Pansies work well as a border planted around taller winter annuals. They are susceptible to slug and snail damage, so protect them with slug and snail bait.
Cyclamen have been used for years as an indoor plant. The leaves are attractive and provide a perfect background for the spectacular blooms. The flowers are orchid-like in very pure colors of white, red, pink, purple, lavender and rose.
Cyclamen are surprisingly hardy as outdoor winter plants. The foliage is very cold tolerant. Cover cyclamen with agricultural fiber or blankets when temperatures fall below 30 degrees to maintain the blooms.
Grow them in deep shade and they will decorate your landscape with blooms every day until May when they decline with the heat. Use them in containers or beds in deep shade. Single-color plantings or drifts of single colors are the usual way to use cyclamen, but a bed of mixed white and another color is decorative.
The main complaint about cyclamen is the cost. A hundred cyclamen in a bed in the shade in front of the house are very showy, but at $6 per plant, you may have to refinance the house to afford them.
Cyclamen will live and bloom in the house for years, but they are hard to over-summer outside. Even if you can keep the foliage alive by storing them in containers in a corner of the yard, they are slow to re-bloom. The beautiful plants offered by your favorite nursery each winter are grown in Colorado or other cold-weather location.
Spinach is not a blooming plant, but has the same negative reaction to hot spells that affects pansies and cyclamen. Plant spinach transplants in the vegetable garden now to provide leaves for salads and vegetable dishes into May.
Harvest spinach leaf by leaf as you need it, without ever taking more than a third of the foliage.
Pansy Winterizing Tips
Pansy winter care begins when you first plant them in the fall.
First, you’ll want to select the healthiest plants you can find, with strong stems and buds, not blooms.
If they haven’t already put their energy into flowering, the plants can get their roots established, which helps them to make it through the winter.
These winter care strategies will assure the healthiest plants and most prolific blooms at winter’s end:
Proper Planting Helps
Plant violas as early as you can in autumn, to give those roots a head start.
Space them at least six inches apart, so they’ll have the level of airflow they prefer for optimal growth.
Pay attention to the soil, too. It needs to drain well.
These hardy cool-weather flowers don’t enjoy standing in pooled water, especially if it freezes, which makes it impossible for their roots to draw up water in the cold months.
For the same reason, planting violas a wee bit above the soil line, maybe a half inch, is recommended, so they don’t sink and create an indentation where water can pool.
Finally, add some time-release fertilizer so your transplants won’t need extra fertilization in winter. A 14-14-14 (NPK) blend will help to strengthen your plants without encouraging them to produce leaves instead of blooms.
The resident landscaper at my house, my husband Wade, recommends Osmocote for this purpose, and it certainly has yielded gorgeous late-winter/early spring flower beds for his clients over the years.
This smart-release plant food is available on Amazon.
Another pro tip from Wade: don’t use bone meal for this purpose, because squirrels love it. They’ll dig up your seedlings indiscriminately to get to the bone meal beneath them.
And note, if you missed fertilizing at planting time, you should probably opt for liquid fertilizer and apply it once a month or so. When the ground gets colder, it’s more difficult for crystals to dissolve in the soil so the roots can absorb them.
After you’ve enjoyed the fall display of color, make sure to deadhead the spent blooms in anticipation of winter.
This helps the plants produce stronger roots, as does pinching back the top inch or two on any spindly stems in late autumn.
Once the temperatures dip below 25° F, the plants usually go dormant, so you can cease with the deadheading.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a temperate area where they bloom again during periods of thaw, enjoy the spectacle!
But don’t worry about removing the blooms or spindly stems when the hard freeze resumes, since the plant’s roots have basically grown as much as they’re going to.
At that point, leave off worrying about deadheading and spend a little time with these other strategies:
Mulching helps the soil retain moisture. Pansies definitely object to dry dirt in winter!
While they might survive from December through March in soil that’s not quite wet enough, the stems and roots won’t be as healthy as you’d like come spring.
I recommend applying an inch or two of straw mulch at planting time, being careful to keep the mulch a couple of inches away from the main stems, so you don’t encourage the onset of certain soilborne diseases.
Then, before the first frost, mulch again with another inch or two of straw, this time covering the stems and blooms, too.
Some diehards rake the straw off after the threat of frost or ice has passed, but I usually just leave it in place since the wintering plants will just push right through it to bloom in the early spring.
Many other flowering plants don’t need water in the winter, but these early-spring bloomers sure do.
They’re developing root systems and growing stems and maybe even producing blossoms until the temperatures plummet to 25°F or lower.
And even if a cold spell wilts the foliage, they need to stay hydrated to revive in spring or maybe even bloom again, or grow more roots if the freeze lets up.
When their soil is dry, or it hasn’t rained or snowed in a few weeks, get out the watering can and give them an inch or so of water.
It’s especially important to water them before a deep freeze, so they can drink before the ground gets so hard the roots can no longer draw up water.
If you missed the window of opportunity ahead of a harsh freeze, you can still water dry soil after it subsides, to make up for the oversight.
How Extreme Cold Affects Pansies, Violas, Cabbage and Kale
Pansies and Violas are hardy plants and will survive a frost—and even a hard freeze—for a period of time. Depending on how hard the frost was, flowers that were blooming may wither, but the plants will stay alive. The future buds are protected down in the crown of the foliage, and will emerge when air temperatures rise again.
When temps fall below 10 degrees for several hours, this is extreme cold for Pansies and Violas. The roots cannot absorb water from the frozen soil. This is usually most apparent in shady beds and northern exposure settings. Frozen soil and drying winds can kill the plants, even though the plants were healthy prior to that. Snow cover actually helps the pansy beds, as it insulates and protects from wind.
The Triad has seen some of its coldest weather in many years. Your Pansy or Viola beds may indeed suffer more damage this winter than in past years because of this fact. You can help the surviving plants by fertilizing lightly once temperatures begin to warm in late February and early March.
Ornamental cabbage and kales were also hit by the excessive cold this year. While they also are fairly hardy, and in most years will provide needed color and texture in winter months, this latest blast of cold probably killed most of them in the area. If your cabbage or kale have turned a light tan color, they should be pulled out and disposed of.