By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Kyle Huffstickler and Allen Owings
The ideal planting time for cool-season bedding plants in Louisiana runs from late September through early December. Some of our common cool-season flowers prefer the earlier planting dates, and some do better with the later planting dates.
Pansies and their dwarf cousins, violas, prefer planting after the temperatures have cooled off some. The LSU AgCenter normally recommends late October through early December as a recommended planting window for these plants. Pansies continue to be our most popular landscape flower for late fall through early spring, but violas are gaining more market share and are being used more in home landscape plantings.
Many pansy and viola varieties are on the market in a wide choice of colors – blue, rose, pink, yellow, white, purple, red and scarlet, among others. Flower sizes come in large, medium and small. Some varieties have solid-color ("clear") flower petals and others have blotched flower faces. Normally, clear-faced flowers are more popular for landscape use, but some folks like the colors of the blotched flowers in mixed plantings.
When properly cared for, pansies will last into late April and early May most years. A combination of pansies in the front of a landscape bed with the colorful foliage of ornamental kale and cabbage behind them can be attractive. Snapdragons are also a nice companion plant for violas or pansies.
Pansies and violas do best when planted in full sun, but they can tolerate a few hours of partial shade daily. Be aggressive and plant these flowers in masses for the best visual enhancement. Space individual plants 8-10 inches apart and at least 3-4 rows deep.
Choose pansy varieties with small- and medium-sized flowers. These hold up better than larger-flowered pansy varieties long term. The smaller-flowered violas are season extenders due to their rain and heat tolerance. Violas last two weeks longer than pansies into the late spring. Matrix pansy and Sorbet violas are two of the LSU AgCenter-recommended series. To enjoy pansies and violas season-long, follow proper bed preparation, fertilization, soil pH and irrigation practices. Properly prepare the landscape bed to allow for good internal drainage and aeration. Make sure your soil comes from a reputable supplier. Cheap soil is "bad," expensive soil is "good."
Pansy and viola beds need a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.0. They require more acid soil growing conditions than some other bedding plants. You can add fresh, nutrient-rich, finished compost to landscape beds to provide nutrients. Compost also is a great source of organic matter. For a traditional fertilizer approach, apply a slow-release fertilizer at planting. Most slow-release fertilizers for home gardens are 3- to 4-month formulations.
Pansies and violas are low-maintenance. Deadheading (removing old flowers) is not needed. They’ll keep on blooming through spring.