Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are familiar to most gardeners. Their variety and versatility make them a welcome addition to borders, patio containers, hanging baskets, window boxes, and flower beds. Many people are attracted to the faces (blotches) common with many varieties. Non-blotched forms are also available. Color selection is another attractive feature. Pansies are available in every color of the rainbow. They offer some of the best shades of blue found in annual flowers. Most have color combinations of 2 or 3 different colors or various shades of the same color. Old varieties had problems blooming when temperatures soared during the summer months. However, the newer hybrids possess improved heat tolerance and plant vigor.
Pansy selection can be a confusing experience if your garden center offers a large variety. The F1 hybrids are usually the best choice for large flowers, vigorous growth, and better heat tolerance. The 'Majestic Giants' Series, 'Character' Series, 'Regal' Series, 'Imperial' Series, 'Crown' Series, and 'Viking' Series are F1 hybrids to look for if large flowers are desired. These varieties produce flowers up to 4" across.
Some medium-sized F1 hybrids include the 'Maxim' Series, 'Crystal Bowl' Series, 'Universal' Series, and 'Faces' Series. These plants produce flowers 2 to 3 inches across.
There are also excellent pansy selections that aren't F1 hybrids. The 'Joker' Series is an F2 hybrid that has proven itself very well. 'Jolly Joker' was a 1990 All America Selection (AAS) winner. This pansy has orange lower petals and solid purple upper petals. 'Padparadja' is also an AAS winner with orange-colored flowers that do not fade even in hot weather.
As a general rule, pansies grow 6 and 8 inches tall with a similar spread. They have a round, mounded habit and perform best in partially shaded locations. Pansies can be planted outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked. They can withstand freezing temperatures without any problems. They require soils that are moist and well drained where their roots can remain cool. Keep the plants well watered during dry weather. Remove faded flowers for continuous bloom and to keep plants looking neat. If you haven't tried pansies before or haven't used them for a few years, give the new varieties a try. You may really like what you see.
This article originally appeared in the May 6, 1992 issue, p. 72.