Winter Care for Pansies (Complete Guide)

So, you want to learn how to care for your pansies over the winter.

These gorgeous, colorful early blooming plants are sold for cheap by the rack at a lot of discount garden centers.

They’re quick to bloom and add a bunch of color to any yard. And they’re one of the first few plants in the spring to do so.

But most gardeners use them as a temporary piece only- buying again every single year when they can be kept for years to come.

You’ll learn how to take care of them in the winter care guide for pansies.

Let’s get started.

Are pansies good for the winter?

A pansy ready for the winter - Pansy care guide.
Viola tricolor.

Pansies are considered to be cold-hardy plants that do well all over the US.

Areas that are especially cold in lower hardiness zones, such as the Midwest and Northeast still have some cultivars that are made for cold tolerance.

Pansies are often sold as annuals in garden centers but are poorly cared for, so they often wither and are tossed out rather than winterized for next spring.

With proper care, pansies can be overwintered for a bountiful bloom of color.

Are pansies perennials or annuals?

Pansies are both, depending on your hardiness zone.

If you’re in a lower zone, pansies can be considered a biennial decorative ornamental flower.

Higher zones typically can’t nurture them over the summer/winter so they’re considered annuals.

They’re often marketed as annual plants in nurseries when in reality they act more like perennials. It’s all down to the hardiness zone and cultivar type.

What is the lowest temperature pansies can tolerate?

Pansies are cold-tolerant plants and will do fine as low as 25 degrees. At this point, even the most resilient varieties will likely become damaged or wilt in the cold.

The plant will likely survive the frost but will have fewer blooms that are less colorful and dramatic in the spring.

If you’re in a colder hardiness zone, you’ll need to use mulch, row covers, or time the planting correctly so that it has enough time to build a root system for the winter.

Anything below 25F is too cold for pansies and they will probably be harmed by the elements.

What are some cold-hardy pansies

Some of the best cold-hardy pansies that do well in the winter are Snow Angel pansies. These survive the winter in zones as low as 4 and will come back in the spring.

The pansy looks like a tiger’s eye, so it’s commonly called Viola Tiger Eyes with a white, yellow, and black patterning.

Some other species to consider are Cool Wave, Icicle, and Columbine.

Pansy winter care guide

A yellow and purple pansy.
Winter care for Viola tricolor var. hortensis is straightforward

Here are some tips to care for pansies over the winter.

Apply them accordingly to your hardiness zone or specific pansy cultivar you’re growing.

The following guidelines should work for the majority of general pansy care.

Know your hardiness zone

This is the absolute baseline for proper pansy care.

If you choose the right hardiness zone from the start, you’ll have a much easier time raising them with a lot less headache.

Pansies vary in activity depending on your hardiness zone. If you’re in zones 4-7, they’ll bloom in the spring and go dormant in the winter.

Pansies are known to be early bloomers, so if you need a plant that produces color quickly, these are one of the first to flower in the spring.

When winter rolls around, they’ll die back and go dormant.

They also don’t tolerate heat well, so you’ll often see pansies drop all their leaves and begin to wither in the peak of summer.

If you’re in zones 8-11, expect that your plant won’t come back next year.

Treat it like an annual rather than a biennial because they simply don’t have the hardiness to tolerate the brutal conditions outdoors in these zones.

So you’ll have to buy another set next spring if you want to continue growing them.

Don’t even bother with caring for them over the cold season as it’s likely they’ll wither before it even gets here. Unless you have a super hardy variety.

Choose pansies with strong roots, not blooms

When it comes to choosing pansies, don’t fall for the color (as hard as it is).

Choose plants with established root systems that are virulent. Choose the healthiest ones you can find.

Don’t get any that have damaged or weak roots. The plants with developed systems will have a head start to winter already.

Plant early

Be sure to plant your pansies as early as possible. This will allow their root system to become established so they can handle the coming winter.

If you plant them too late, they’ll waste all their energy on producing flowers and buds- leaving little time for them to get a strong root system.

Plant them spaced at least 8” apart for optimal growth. This will grant them good air circulation and reduce competition between the pansy roots.

Use good soil that’s well-draining. Pansies aren’t tolerant to cold, pooled water.

Any cold water that pools around the stem and roots can kill the plant in the winter. Ensure the soil drains properly and there’s absolutely no pooling.

The temperature should be between 45-65F. If you’re in zones 6-7, plant at the end of September. If you’re in zones 7-8, plant in October.

The best month to plant pansies is in the fall.

Consider a standing plant bed

During the winter, snow and rain can be detrimental to pansies.

They can lead to root rot and mold. Use a raised plant bed if possible. This will ensure that the excess moisture drains out the bottom and keeps your pansies from pooling.

Remove any nearby competing plants like weeds so all the nutrients and water go directly to your pansies.

Prune blooms

After the flower has been spent, be sure to prune it off right away.

This will conserve energy and give it to the roots rather than a dead bloom.

This will help keep the root vitalized so they can continue growing until the temps dip to 25F, where the plant will enter dormancy.

It’s important to give them as much time as possible to develop strong roots which is what sustains the plant during the cold temps.

Winterizing is nothing more than doing the proper procedure to keep your plant protected against the elements.

Add plant food

Use high-quality fertilizer when you transplant them so you don’t need to worry about it later.

Pansies appreciate some 14-14-14 NPK plant food. Mix it in with the soil or use as directed.

Get a slow-release pellet so it can distribute slowly over time and make it to the winter. If you use a traditional fast release plant food (such as liquid mixtures), use it regularly for optimal growth.

Deadhead pansies when the time is right

Pansies will do their thing and be pretty all spring to autumn.

After they bloom, prune off the spent flowers/blooms before winter rolls around.

Again, this is to ensure that the plant stops wasting energy on these flowers and focuses all of its strength on building powerful roots to sustain the cold.

You can cut back and deadhead the top 2” of any spent blooms in the fall, or whenever you anticipate the cold to becoming.

When winter seems to be here, stop deadheading them and leave them be. They’ll stop growing anyway so it doesn’t matter because they’re dormant.

At this point, no energy is being used to grow anything- roots, stems, or flowers.

Know the cold tolerance

Cold tolerant pansy with water drops.
Even though they’re very cold-hardy, you should still be careful of cold snaps.

Pansies can withstand a temperature as low as 20F, but around the 25F mark is when they’ll enter dormancy.

When this temperature becomes the norm (late fall to early winter), you can stop all other activities like deadheading, plant food, and excess watering.

When your plant enters dormancy, it rests and “sleeps” until spring.

If you’re in a higher zone (zone 8 or higher), your pansy is likely not going to survive the winter unless you have a cold-hardy variant.

But for those in lower zones, there are some things you can do to help them stay warm in cold weather.

Mulch your pansies

The easiest way to keep your plants warm over the winter is to add a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil level.

This acts like a blanket over the root system to keep it warm and reduce moisture from entering.

But don’t use it the wrong way- if you water first then add mulch, it covers it up and traps the water underneath!

Pansies appreciate some water in the winter, but nothing that’ll drown the root system. Use straw mulch and add an even layer on top.

Don’t let it touch the stem because it can lead to pests, rot, and fungus.

Keep the mulch neat and tidy in a circle around the primary stems and layer it so that no slopes are present.

This helps prevent the water from pooling in a specific area. Remove the mulch when the temps pick up again in the spring.

Watering during winter

Pansies are one of the few ornamental plants that appreciate some water over the winter.

Unlike winterberry holly and fuchsias, pansies will utilize the water to produce those gorgeous early springtime flowers.

Keep your plants watered so they can bloom in the spring. Keep the top 1” of soil wet after the soil has dried out. Usually, the rain or snow will help keep them hydrated.

But if neither comes, you’ll have to get out there and give them a little TLC.

One thing to keep in mind is that you should water them before a hard freeze comes around. This will give them plenty of water to drink before the root system freezes up.

At this point, they can suck up any moisture from the soil anymore.

So keep watch on your local weather forecast and know what to expect.

Typically, a lack of water doesn’t kill the plant. You can still water them after a period of freezing cold temps.

When should I put out my winter pansies?

Winter pansies, when planted properly, can be put back outside in the early spring.

If you moved them indoors using a plant container, you can slowly bring them outside and acclimate them to the temperatures, sunlight, and humidity.

Start with an area that has partial shade and gradually allow your pansy to get more sunlight each day until it’s getting full sun.

Consider using a protected or sheltered area that’s free from winds, drafts, rain, and create a microclimate.

Can you winter pansies in containers?

It’s possible to overwinter pansies in plant containers or beds.

Just be sure to use well-draining soil so the water doesn’t pool when you water them.

Use a premium or professional potting mix and avoid cheap, generic mixes unless you’re feeling risky.

Pansies will do fine in the winter when grown in pots provided that you use good soil, elevate the pansy, and let it establish firm roots.

These plants are excellent for containers that are 12” or less in diameter.

Use a south-facing patio throughout the spring and fall for the best results. Pansies will survive the winter in pots if you ensure the proper conditions.

Further reading

Here are some other references you may find useful:

Now you’re ready for the winter!

Purple and pink pansies.
Pansies like these can be yours ever year!

You now have all the knowledge you need to care for pansies over the cold season.

Take care of them and they’ll be back to greet you in the spring with their gorgeous flowers.

Pansies are a relatively easy plant to care for and can add some color to your garden before any other plant does.

What do you think? What will you be doing to keep them warm over the winter?

Let us know in the comments section below.

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