Winter flowering pansies and violas are by far the best option for surefire flower power in the winter months. They need little in the way of care, but there are several points to bear in mind in order to get the best show of flowers through the winter.
Universal winter pansies were the first real winter flowering plant to be worthy of the name, though several, types of Violas have always been food for a bit of winter cheer. The brand name of universal pansies will be withdrawn for some reason this year - 2014 - so there might be a little confusion as to what us really a winter pansy.
All pansies are violas in the botanical sense, but here we talk gardening. A Pansy, for gardeners, is that which has the larger flowers - sometimes as big as 3in (7cm) across. The violas have smaller flowers, and many more of them on plants which are normally more compact.
Pansies and Violas are perfect for planting in containers of all types, hanging baskets, window boxes, patio tubs. In fact, anywhere in the garden where there is enough room. Perfect in herbaceous borders or shrub borders which are lacking a bit of winter colour.
The size of the petals and flowers on the winter or other pansies, is in fact more of a disadvantage, as they have no strength to hold themselves erect in wet weather. This leads to droopy, sorry looking blooms until they dry out. If you are planting winter flowering pansies in a hanging basket, then the pendulous flowers are not too much of a problem. It is only when they are sodden that this is the case. Otherwise they have an amazing constitution that will even see them flowering when there is snow on the ground!
Pansies and Violas like to have the sun on their faces in the winter - who doesn't? So, if you are lucky enough to have your main sitting area bathed in winter sun, or at least the recipient of any winter light, the pansies that you planted in the garden in front of you, will also enjoy that sun or light. In effect, they will turn their backs on you. Instead of the colourful pansy faces, you will have second best with a rear view of the sunbathing flowers! It is an important detail to bear in mind when siting them.
Bigger is not always better - in gardening parlance at any rate. The choice between Pansies and Violas for winter flowering is between masses of smaller flowers or fewer, but arguably more beautiful larger flowers. The smaller flowers of Violas will be held erect in all weather and will not suffer the ‘raindrop’ droop of the larger cousins – Pansies.
I am biased in favour of the Winter Pansies, simply because I used to grow many thousands each year, and they provided much needed income to take me through the bare winter months as a grower. So attractive, that they were always sold out well before the winter. But there is no doubting the supremacy of the smaller violas when it comes to carpets of colour.
But again, for winter, the pansies are more dependable in certainty of flower – not always so with the Violas.
On the assumption that you are going to buy ready-made plants from the nursery or garden centre, most garden centres sell them in full flower, starting in Mid August – far too early. Early planted winter pansies will soon put on a lot of growth and become leggy plants before winter sets in. They should ideally be planted mid September at earliest. The trick with Winter Pansies is to grow them as cool as possible until at least mid October when things naturally start to cool off. During the early Autumn I would advise pinching off all flower buds, so that the plant builds up vigour to thrive and provide flower during the winter.
If you buy them as small plants - ‘plugs’ - pot them into 3in - 7cm – pots with peat based compost. Alternatively you can plant the plugs directly into flowering position in the garden or in your containers. They will soon put on the growth to make sizable pansy plants.
Full light is essential for a good flowering crop. Don’t plant them in the shade. They need at least a half day full light, and preferably that throughout the entire day.
Don’t let your pansies dry out if planted in window boxes or baskets, but at the same time keep them a little on the dry side to prevent excessive growth.
Don’t! Just grow them in the potting compost, without additional feeding. Whatever, do not feed your pansies or violas in the winter.
The main causes of non flowering in the winter, are allowing the pansy to flower itself to death before the winter, or not dead heading the flowers at least every week. Dead-heading is absolutely essential to stop them setting seed. For once they do that, their job is done. They will simply slow down or stop flowering altogether.
In early spring, if the plants have become a bit leggy, don’t be afraid to cut them back or nip out the straggly growth. They will soon shoot out and provide more flowers.
In containers or even in the garden, they make a good meal for the maggots of Vine Weevil Beetles. If your plants just wilt and collapse and can easily be lifted out of the ground, suspect this pest first!
In the garden border, slugs and snails can also be a problem.
Under glass, then keep a lookout for red spider through the winter and also powdery mildew. Mildew can also be a problem outdoors in dry spring weather
In containers and baskets, aphids can often be a pest at they like to overwinter beneath the leaves of the pansies. They can be particularly troublesome in early spring as foliage provides the first good meal of the year!