One of my favorite fall gardening joys (I call them joys instead of chores) is planting pansies and violas. This is a yearly rite of passage for me that I have been enjoying since childhood. One of my first memories was helping plant pansies in my parent’s garden when I was about three years old.
William Thompson, an Englishman, began experimenting with crossing various species of violas in the 1800s to eventually develop the pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) we all know and love today. Through the years, plant breeders have developed various flower colors in assorted shades of white, red, pink, purple, lavender, blue, yellow, orange, or black. Pansies and their relatives are among the few annual bedding plants with such a wide range of color choices.
Pansies will have the largest flowers but should be deadheaded regularly to bloom well. Violas, on the other hand, will prolifically flower without much deadheading. I would recommend periodically removing seed heads on violas. Remove any damaged leaves to give your plants a boost. I have a great pair of scissors with long, thin blades that I constantly use to deadhead and trim off old foliage.
Can’t make up your mind whether to plant pansies or violas? Then try panolas, a hybrid cross between pansies and violas. Panolas have the cold hardiness and consistent flowering characteristics of a viola but have a larger bloom similar to a pansy.
These are all cool season annuals, and now is the time of year to plant them. They prefer to be planted in organically rich, well-drained soil in full sun. Violas and panolas will tolerate filtered sun better than pansies but will not produce as many flowers. During periods of extremely cold weather, pansies won’t flower as well, as violas tend to be more cold hardy. If a hard freeze is predicted, water your plants well before the cold weather spell, as the additional moisture will help reduce cold weather stress.
Remember that pansies, violas, and panolas are “critter candy” as deer, rabbits, and squirrels like to munch on them. Fencing or using a liquid deer deterrent may be necessary to prevent deer from eating the flowers and foliage. I always sprinkle cayenne pepper (which contains capsaicin and typically lasts longer for me than a hot pepper wax liquid repellant) on the foliage and on top of the soil in my containers to deter rabbits and squirrels.
When planting in containers, I recommend you NOT use a soil mix containing moisture retention control as it may keep the soil too wet during our rainy winter months and lead to root rot. Pansies, violas, and panolas are all heavy feeders; therefore, fertilize with a water-soluble liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks.
Pansies, violas, and panolas come in many color combinations. Choosing what to plant each year is exciting. I tend to gravitate toward brighter colors, considering how gray and dreary the winter months can be. Their cheerful “faces” always make me smile. At this point in my gardening life, I plant in containers, making it easier to plant and keep the flowers deadheaded.