Pansies may not grab all the attention like elegant peonies or bold sunflowers, but they have a lot going for them.
They’re hardy enough to keep on blooming even in cold weather and they can fill in shady areas with some much-needed color.
Another thing to love about pansies? They are easy to start from seed.
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Pansies are biennials, but most of us just grow them as annuals.
Although they’re fairly affordable and you can find them at almost any nursery, it feels awfully wasteful to buy a flat each spring.
Save a buck and help the planet by propagating your flowers from seed.
I’ve also found some packets of unique cultivars that you’d never find as starts growing in soil at a nursery.
I grew gorgeous ‘Brush Strokes’ one year, a cultivar with striped, multicolored petals, and the neighbors were constantly raving about them.
Want to get your hands dirty? Great! Here’s what we’re going to go over:
What You’ll Learn
Pansies are slow to mature, so you need to plan in advance. Other than that, they’re a cinch to start by propagating seed.
Ready to give it a go?
When to Propagate Pansies from Seed
If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 and up, pansies can be sown directly in the ground in the summer. July is right for the northern half of the US, and August is better for the southern states.
Otherwise, start them indoors two to three months before the last predicted frost date in your area and wait to move the plants outside until they’re a bit more mature.
Pansies have a high germination rate and the seedlings aren’t fussy about their growing conditions, but they take their good, sweet time to mature.
While the seeds germinate within just two weeks, it takes at least 10 weeks for seedlings to be mature enough to plant out in the garden.
If you crave a late winter gardening project, starting pansies indoors is just the thing.
You need to make sure you’ll have enough cool days for the plants to mature and bloom before hot weather sets in because they tend to go dormant once things warm up. These plants will do much better in the cold than in the heat.
This year, we had an extreme ice storm, and temperatures stayed around 21°F for two days. My pansies? Totally fine. But once the thermostat shows 80°F, mature plants fade right away.
So, start those seeds indoors really early in the winter because cold weather is your friend. Heat, not so much.
You need to time it so that the plants are ready to transplant during the cool months and they’re not trying to bloom in the hot summer months.
Cultivars to Choose
If you’re looking for some seeds, here are a few recommendations to get you started.
One of my favorites is ‘Moulin Rouge,’ which features a mixture of colors including yellow, purple, and red, all with large, frilly petals.
Burpee has this early-blooming beauty in packs of 35 seeds, if you’re interested.
Or check out ‘Rococo,’ an heirloom from Italy with ruffled blooms.
You can purchase a mix of these seeds that will produce yellow, purple, pink, and red flowers with dark purple centers from Eden Brothers.
‘Laeta Fire’ has petite blossoms, about the size of a dime in bright yellow with a fiery magenta and purple edge. Just imagine a cupcake topped with these colorful blossoms.
Mix Your Soil
If you’re sowing directly in the soil, grab some well-rotted compost and some rice hulls or peat moss.
It doesn’t matter if your soil is just lovely already, you want to work in some nutrients and make it nice and light and fluffy. Work in enough organic matter until your soil is loose and loamy to at least six inches deep.
If you’re using potting soil, you should still grab some moss or rice hulls. Mix in one part sphagnum moss or rice hulls to six parts soil.
You can also use a seed starting mix, but I’ve found that my pansies develop stronger root systems in the type of potting mix described above.
I prefer sustainable rice hulls to sphagnum moss, a natural byproduct of the milling process that’s typically disposed of as waste but so useful in the garden.
Rice hulls are handy for a lot of gardening applications, from loosening up the soil and improving water retention to acting as a mulch when added on top of the soil in containers.
I always keep a bag on hand.
If you’d like to add some to your gardening toolkit, grab a quarter, half, or full cubic foot at Arbico Organics.
Sow the Seeds
To sow early indoors, fill a pot with your prepared medium. Pansies do best in three-inch pots or a six-cell tray.
I like to use biodegradable pots or I reuse plastic pots from seedlings I’ve purchased. If you reuse pots, be sure to scrub them with soap and water.
Biodegradable containers like CowPots reduce transplant shock and they are made with cow manure, a renewable resource. Plus, as each pot dissolves, it adds nutrients to the soil.
Sound good? You can nab packs of three, 50, or 120 CowPots at Arbico Organics.
Whether outdoors or in, I generally assume that whenever a seed is itty-bitty, teeny-tiny, it needs to be sown either on the surface of the soil or beneath a paper-thin layer of soil.
But pansies can’t be constrained by these rules – the seeds need to be stuffed down at least a quarter-inch.
These should also be spaced about three inches apart in the soil, or with one seed per three-inch pot or individual cell. When sowing outdoors in the soil, I prefer to broadcast the seeds and then thin out the seedlings.
Water the soil well, whether indoors or out, and keep it moist.
Seeds can also be started in containers in a cold frame for easy transplant later.
Indoors, all you need to do is provide supplemental light if you don’t have a spot near a window that provides at least five hours of sunlight per day.
Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy – don’t oversaturate it or allow it to dry out too much.
Outdoors, sow in partial sun, unless the particular cultivar or species does better in full sun or shade.
Watch the seeding bed outdoors really closely for weeds. Weeds will steal nutrition and outcompete your pansies.
If you live in Zone 6 or below and you planted outside in the summer, you’ll need to provide protection in the form of a cold frame or a thick layer of leaf or straw mulch during the winter.
Once the seedlings have at least six true leaves each, you can transplant them. If you’re moving the plants from indoors, you’ll need to harden them off for a week first.
To do this, take your little seedlings outside and place them in a protected spot in partial sun for an hour. Then, bring them back inside.
The next day, let the seedlings stay outside for two hours. The following day, add another hour, and so on, until you reach a full eight hours.
While you’re working on hardening off your plants, prepare the ground soil for transplanting as described above. Or, if you’re planting into a container, fill the container with water-retentive potting soil.
Now you can take the plants out of their pots and place them in the prepared soil. Scoop out a hole the size of the seed-starting container.
Take the plant out, unless you used a biodegradable pot, and place it in the hole. Firm the soil up around the roots and water it in.
Dress Up Your Garden with Pretty Pansies
I can’t imagine a garden without at least a handful of pansies adding some hardy, reliable color. The fact that you can easily fill up a substantial area with just one packet of seeds is just a bonus.
How do you like to use your pansies? Do you plant them in pots to liven up your patio? Do you grow them in your garden for the edible flowers? Fill me in on all the details in the comment section below.
There’s so much more to know about growing pansies! Take a look at the following guides next: