Violas and pansies prefer a sunny position in winter and thrive in containers, window boxes or hanging baskets.
Violas and pansies prefer a sunny position in winter and thrive in containers, window boxes or hanging baskets.

Violas and pansies are all-year-round success stories. Both are hybridised versions of the old-fashioned violet and both have been bred to adapt to the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Plant them now for a blaze of colour throughout winter, or in a shady spot during spring for summer colour.

Both violas and pansies (viola x wittrockiana) are hybrid offspring of the romantic heartsease (Viola tricolour) that is referred to by Shakespeare and was a favourite flower of Elizabethan England.

What is the difference today? Hybrid violas have a more bushy habit of growth, producing more shoots and more flowers than the hybrid pansy, although the flowers are smaller. Violas and pansies are both referred to as pansies, with violas often being referred to as tufted pansies. In many respects, violas are demure, cute and floriferous, while pansies are the rock stars of the family.

Pansies come in a rich variety of colours, with differing flower types from the typically blotched colours to the clear faced varieties. While their large faces make them instantly identifiable, pansy flower sizes also vary, from small to large. You can choose from one of two groups. Grandiflora pansies have large blooms (10-12cm in diameter), while the multifloras tend to have smaller flowers (5cm in diameter).

When it comes to choosing violas or pansies for your garden, big is not necessary beautiful. Although gardeners are attracted to big blooms, multiflora pansy varieties hold up better in heavy rain, heat or extreme cold. The multifloras also tend to have more blooms – so the impact of colour in a mass planting is impressive.

Pansies and violas do make perfect partners for spring-flowering daffodils and tulips. Few people realise that pansies can also tolerate brak water and as such are popular in the dry hotter areas, such as the Karoo, where they are planted in May for winter colour.


The latest trend in the US is to plant violas and pansies before winter for an extra long season of colour. Trials at Colorado State and Michigan State Universities show that pansies planted in the North American autumn (August) will flower well throughout autumn, survive temperatures as low as -10ºC during the winter and then continue flowering from February (their early spring) through to June (their mid-summer). Few gardens in Gauteng experience snowbound winters, but the research does illustrate the cold-hardy nature of violas and pansies. If planted now in virtually any region of the country, they will provide colour throughout winter.

Planting pointers

Pansies and violas both prefer the cooler months of the year, so it’s best to plant them now. They thrive in a sunny location during winter, but will also grow well in semi-shade. Plant pansy seedlings in well-composted soil. It is a good idea to add 90g of superphosphate per square metre of soil and dig over well. Both do well in containers if the container is filled with new potting soil each time it is planted up.

The ideal spacing for pansies is 15cm apart, while violas can be planted 10cm apart. It is important to choose a well-drained site, as both fall prey to root rot at the first sign of water-logging.

To keep pansies and violas blooming for the longest possible time, be sure to pinch off all the old flowers and seed pods. This deadheading encourages more blooms and will keep up the colour for weeks. - Saturday Star