How To Grow Bedding Pansies And Violas
Pansies and violas are the mainstay of winter baskets and containers
Pansies and violas are one of our most popular bedding plant, being an indispensable plant for a winter bedding scheme when there really isn’t much choice. The large flowered pansies are the hybrid result of crossing violas. They were introduced to gardeners in 1812 and by 1833 there were around 400 named varieties available. There is a rainbow of colours available from almost black, deepest purple, to white. The flower heads are 5 – 8cm (2 – 3”) across as opposed to the smaller daintier heads of the viola. There are around 525 – 600 species of violas worldwide, mainly in the northern hemisphere’s temperate regions. The species violas bloom mainly in spring but the hybrids have been bred to withstand our winters. Most of the bedding violas and pansies are perennials or biennials but they are usually just kept for one season and then discarded, but after flowering they can be cut back to a couple of centimetres and they will re-grow.
The winter flowering pansies are bred to be frost tolerant, they will droop and look dead in a heavy frost but once the temperatures rise they will bounce back again.
The flowers of the violas are edible and look lovely decorating a salad, alternatively they can be crystallised using egg white and caster sugar then used to decorate cakes. Try pairing them in a spring container with a small conifer or hebe and some trailing ivy under-planted with some miniature bulbs, such as tulips, grape-hyacinth or daffodils.
Pansies are really easy to raise from seed; click here to watch the video showing how to sow the seed. The most common causes of the seed failing are fluctuations in both temperature and moisture. Once the seedlings are ready to prick out plant them into potting compost and place them somewhere cool and light, keeping them just damp. When they have grown 6 – 8 leaves they can be planted into their permanent position. If buying ready grown plants from the garden centre make sure they are sturdy, compact plants with plenty of buds.
They need a really sunny site with at least 6 hours per day. If you are planting them in full sun over a hot summer try and ensure that they get a little bit of shade over the hottest part of the day. If they are in too shady a position you may find that they don’t produce that many flowers.
They need fertile well-draining soil so add some good quality peat-free compost or well-rotted farmyard manure to the planting hole. If planting in a container again use good quality tub and basket compost, which will have some granular slow-release fertiliser added. Cover the hole in the bottom of the pot with a piece of crock to ensure that it doesn’t become clogged with silt. Water well after planting. Space the plants about 15cm (6”) apart. Don’t plant in the same place more than 3 years running without replacing a good proportion of the soil otherwise fungal pathogens can build up in the soil. Click here to watch the video showing one of our nursery staff planting up a spring container.
Keep them just damp, if they are too wet they will rot and if too dry will be susceptible to mildew. Water in the morning when there is less chance of evaporation; give them a good soak infrequently as a little and often encourages the plant to be shallow rooting which leaves them more susceptible to drying out. Keep deadheading to ensure a succession of flowers. In summer feed weekly with a weak solution of tomato fertiliser and feed fortnightly in winter. There will be less flowers in winter then summer owing to the colder temperatures. Don’t feed with a high nitrogen fertiliser as this will result in lush, sappy growth which is more prone to rotting and is very attractive to aphids.
Pests and diseases
They are relatively trouble free but just be vigilant and keep an eye out for slugs and snails. Aphids can sometimes become a problem so just rub them off between finger and thumb or spray with an insecticide or soapy water.
If you let them become too dry and there is poor airflow around them mildew can be a problem. There are fungicidal sprays but once you have mildew there is little to be done, so the best course is to pull them up and put them on the bonfire.
There are now several varieties of trailing pansies for summer, ‘Cascadia’ and ‘Balconita’ are just 2 and look stunning planted on their own in a hanging basket. Make sure you keep pinching out the tips to produce a bushy plant otherwise they will become long and straggly.
Pansy ‘Matrix Morpheus’ is a stunning mixture of a dark blue top petal with lemon yellow lower petals edged in lilac.
Viola ‘Volante Yellow Red Wing’ is a miniature trailing type in shades of red, yellow and deep orange.
For more information, hints and tips on bedding plants just get in touch with our gardening team here in store in the Outdoor Plant department.