Pansies love cold weather and are one of the first flowers added to the garden. They excel in containers, too. Photos by Doug Oster

Gardening Green with Doug 

Planting Pansies Celebrates the Arrival of Spring

By Doug Oster


March 24, 2022

As the luminescent yellow forsythia buds push out from their woody stems, the morning landscape is filled with the sounds of songbirds announcing their spring intentions.

Daffodils unfold, magnolia buds swell and other early bloomers are returning for their much-needed ephemeral displays.

Color is back, and there are plants gardeners can add now whose happy faces fill us with joy.

Pansies and violas love cool weather. Regardless of what Mother Nature has left, they will not only persist but thrive through sub-freezing temperatures and snow.

Containers are the perfect place for them this early in the season, as the soil can be too wet to work. Keeping the plants in pots close to the house also gives them a little protection on those 15-degree nights.

Nurseries and garden centers are offering flats, bowls and large pots filled with the cheery flowers right now.

How to Properly Plant in a Container

When planting any container, it’s important the pot has drainage. Bigger is always better too, as the more planting mix or mass there is, the less it will need to be watered.

Fill the pot with a premoistened planting mix. Take the dry mix and add water until, when squeezed, the soil sticks together without dripping. That’s the perfect moisture content for plants.

Don’t pour dry mix into the container, add the plants and then water — that doesn’t work.

When the pansies or violas are planted in the already moist soil mix, they will hit the ground running.

Pansies have larger flowers than their diminutive cousins, violas, but both bloom vigorously through the spring, especially with the addition of fertilizer.

A good liquid, organic concentrate when mixed with water will give them everything they need. I use Drammatic, and I remind readers that no one pays me to say that. I buy it just like you and have asked two local nurseries (Chapon’s and Hahn) to carry the product, as it’s a favorite. Made from fish, it smells like low tide when applied, but the aroma dissipates in a day or so, even for indoor plants.

This fertilizer makes everything grow, and since it’s organic, it does not negatively impact soil life in the planting mix.

The fun part is deciding what to plant in your containers. Do you mix colors, shapes and sizes, or do you prefer one bold color, like pure white or deep purple?

One little trick is to mix pretty lettuce like ‘Freckles’ or ‘Flashy Trout back’ with the flowers. Since they both enjoy the same weather, they pair perfectly.

The flowers are actually edible and make quite a statement when plated with the leafy greens.

As the lettuce grows, it’s harvested, leaving room for the pansies to take over the container.

Even though pansies and violas could be kept going into summer, they hate hot weather. In my garden, they last until July Fourth. At that point, nurseries and garden centers put annuals on sale, and I’ll pull the tired pansies in favor of the discount annuals.

When the frost hits in the fall, fresh pansies are used to fill the pots, which will provide their spectacular color in the garden at least through early December.

Containers filled with the colorful, happy faces of pansies will create a spectacular presentation, not only right now, but through much of the season.

Fall Planning Done Now

This is an important time to record where spring bulbs are emerging, and maybe more importantly, where they aren’t. Creating a template for fall planting now will make the job easy when bulbs need to go into the ground at the end of the season.

Draw a little map or take a panoramic photo to identify areas where bulbs can be planted, as you’ll never remember after another long gardening season.

You Should Grow This

Another plant blooming right now is Helleborus orientalis. This evergreen perennial is a spring-flowering treasure that should outlive the gardener. The flowers come in a wide range of colors, variegations, shapes and sizes. The deer will occasionally nibble on the winter foliage, but it’s not a favorite. Hellebores like morning sun and afternoon shade, and many are long-blooming, lasting for months.


See Doug in Butler

Doug will appear at the Butler Home Show on Sunday, April 10, 2022, at the Family Sports Center on Rt. 68. He’ll present “Organic Gardening Works for Everyone.” Admission to the show is free.

The bright colors of pansies and a welcome sight in spring.
Some people see a happy face in the bloom of a pansy.
Pansies can shake off snow and cold without a problem.
The striking colors of pansies are one of the things that makes them so special.
Helleborus orientalis is an evergreen, perennial which starts blooming early in the spring.
Take a picture or draw a map, but know where you want to plant bulbs in the fall by creating a template now.


Doug Oster writes a weekly column for The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter. He also the host of The Organic Gardener Radio Show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio 1020AM. 

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