How to Care for Pansies in Winter

Need a pick-me-up homegrown flower? Sunflowers, daisies, or dahlias might immediately come to mind. But I prefer pansies!

I think of this day-brightener first, because it blooms in many different jewel-tones and sunny colors, and has those cute little flower faces.

But even more important, these bloom in fall, and then come back again to burst into a riot of color in early spring.

A close up vertical image of bright yellow and purple flowers growing in the snow pictured in bright sunshine. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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When you grow them organically, they also have edible blooms, so you can scatter the cheery color on a salad or rice and get a mood boost, even when the weather’s chilly.

In general, pansies are easy to care for and hardy. In USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8 they may be grown as biennials.

But to enjoy all the nice features of this cheery, hardy flower, it’s important to give pansies proper winter care.

With a few extra steps when you plant them in the fall, and as the winter temperatures start to set in, you can help your pansies survive freezing conditions and also produce more blooms in spring.

I’ll share the “winterizing pansies” process with you, covering these basics:

When Is the Growing Season for Pansies?

All pansies are members of the Violaceae family, and Viola tricolor plus the hybrid V. x wittrockiana are the most popular varieties.

A close up horizontal image of yellow flowers growing in a pot covered in a layer of frost pictured on a soft focus background.

Typically, plants from either of these species go in the ground in September or October in Zones 4-7. They’ll flower for a while, go dormant in the colder months, and then burst forth in glorious bloom again in spring, usually one of the first flowers to do so.

They expire in the heat, though. In warmer zones, expect your friendly violas to wither and die in late spring or early summer.

In Zones 8-11, pansies may be grown only as annuals, planted in spring. If you live in these areas, you won’t need to worry about winter care because your plants simply won’t survive outdoors for multiple seasons.

Refer to our guide to growing pansies for straightforward and encouraging information to suit your needs.

There are also an assortment of these cheery plants that are so cold-hardy they’re known as “winter pansies.” They’re a different species, V. heimalis, and they reliably bloom throughout the cold months.

A close up horizontal image of bright purple flowers growing in the snow, pictured on a soft focus background.

If those sound like something you’d like to get going in your garden, you can read all about this extra cold-hardy type of pansy in our guide.

The more common types that bloom in fall and again in spring are going to depend on you, their gardener friend, to help them get through the cold season between these bouts of flowering.

Keep reading to find out how you can be of assistance.

Pansy Winterizing Tips

Pansy winter care begins when you first plant them in the fall.

A close up horizontal image of a yellow and burgundy pansy flower growing in the snow.

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.

A close up horizontal image of a white, yellow, and purple flower covered in frost surrounded by foliage pictured on a soft focus background.

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.

Osmocote Flower and Vegetable Food

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.

Deadheading

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.

A close up horizontal image of frost on purple flowers and foliage.

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:

Mulch

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.

A close up horizontal image of a bright blue flower surrounded by mulch to protect it during the winter months.

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.

Water

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.

A close up horizontal image of bright blue flowers surrounded by snow pictured in bright sunshine.

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.

Helping Pansies Hibernate

When you help these cheery flowering plants make it through the winter, they’ll return the favor with a bloomfest that will give you a reason to look forward to spring!

I’m hoping you’ll also become a fan of these colorful, easy-care bedding plants that bloom in fall and again in spring.

A close up horizontal image of bright purple and orange bicolored flowers growing in the snow pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.

If you’re already in the Pansy Fan Club, I have a question for you:

Do you have a favorite chill-resistant variety you’re growing, or a winterizing technique I didn’t mention here?

If so, kindly hop on to the comments section below and share your thoughts.

Also, if this guide hit the mark for you, check out these other articles next for more pansy wisdom next:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photo via Osmocote. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Rose Kennedy

An avid raised bed vegetable gardener and former “Dirt to Fork” columnist for an alt-weekly newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee, Rose Kennedy is dedicated to sharing tips that increase yields and minimize work. But she’s also open to garden magic, like the red-veined sorrel that took up residence in several square yards of what used to be her back lawn. She champions all pollinators, even carpenter bees. Her other enthusiasms include newbie gardeners, open-pollinated sunflowers, 15-foot-tall Italian climbing tomatoes, and the arbor her husband repurposed from a bread vendor’s display arch. More importantly, Rose loves a garden’s ability to make a well-kept manicure virtually impossible and revive the spirits, especially in tough times.

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Janis
Janis (@guest_10823)
7 months ago

Could you comment on starting pansies from seed?