Are Pansies Annual, Biennial, Or Perennial Flowers?
Thinking of adding some pansies to your garden, but want to know if they will come back each year, or if you'll be replanting them every season? Keep on reading to find out if pansies are considered annuals, biennials, or perennial flowers before you start adding them to your garden this year!
Annuals tend to stick to the spring to fall growing season, yielding the most during the summer months before their life cycle ends. Perennials are the gift that keeps on giving. Many flowering perennials can live for years and go through multiple seasons depending on conditions and climate.
Pansies are one of the most popular garden flowers planted each season. This leads many gardeners to ask the question – if I plant them, will they come back? Are they considered flowering annuals or perennial flowers?
Most perennial flowers can survive winter temperatures that aren’t extreme. Annuals die off when the frost starts to hit. Some perennials are also treated as annuals due to their frost or heat sensitivity. Biennials will come back for just one follow up season or possibly two. So where do Pansies fall into these categories?
So, if you’ve decided you want to add some pansies to your garden this season, but want to know if they’ll come back each year, you’ve come to the right place. Continue reading to learn all about the life cycle of the pansy, and what you can expect when you plant them.
The Short Answer
Depending on the climate in which you live, pansies can be treated as annuals or perennials. They have a low tolerance for heat, but a higher tolerance for winter weather. They can come back each year in milder climates. However, climates with super hot temps (zone 9 or higher) are not sustainable beyond one growing season. Most of the time, they are treated as annuals, regardless of the climate.
The Long Answer
Pansies are technically short-lived perennials. Short-lived perennials are not exactly biennials, as they can come back for multiple seasons. But they are shorter lived than other perennials, meaning they only make it 3-5 seasons.
People typically plant them as annuals because of the climate they prefer and the season when the flowers die off. What separates them from most annuals is that they die off in scorching summer weather.
Gardeners tend to replace them with summer annuals when the weather gets too hot. Apart from extreme zones, they tolerate winter well when the temperature drops below freezing.
However, you should sow the seeds the right way and at the right time for pansies to survive winter. Depending on your climate, you can leave them in the garden during summer or use the space for true annuals after they lose their flowers.
Pansies bloom profusely in a wide variety of colors and grow to be about 6 to 12 inches tall. They prefer rich soil in a damp, cool climate. Spring is the ideal time for pansies to grow before the summer annuals take over in the garden.
One feature gardeners should know is that there are garden pansies and wild pansies. Garden varieties tend to be more colorful. Botanists created this hybrid by crossbreeding with a variety of other species, primarily European, to produce the unique characteristics of garden pansies.
Vendors often sell garden varieties along with wild varieties. The wild varieties go by the names Johnny-jump-up, heartsease, and love-in-idleness.
Pansies are great in the shade, and are a go-to for gardeners that like to organize container arrangements in shady areas.
Garden pansies usually belong to the Violaceae and Viola tricolor families. The V. × wittrockiana, usually F1 hybrids, are what you see in most gardens.
Pansies are easy to take care of, but although a simple plant, it does have versatile hardiness zone reactions. The reason for this is that they can survive winter. They can also tolerate warm weather, but not too hot, such as toasty summers.
The full hardiness range covers zones 2-11, but the typical biennial or short-lived perennial uses apply in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-8.
Zones 2-3 encompass most of Alaska and parts of the contiguous northern U.S. In zones 2-3, people start seeds inside or plant them later in spring. The summer weather may or may not get hot enough to cause young plants to die off.
Most people leave them to grow unchecked and let the return of cold weather kill them off. For this degree of cold winter, treat them as annuals.
The best zones are 4b-8a because in these zones supplying mulch around the plants keeps them alive during winter. Surviving winter means they go dormant and burst to life as the temperatures warm. If summer isn’t too hot, the flowers can go dormant again in winter.
Zones 4b-8a represent the most natural life cycle for pansies. They can grow up, go dormant in the cold, explode back to life, flower, and then reproduce.
Zones 8b – 11
In zones 8b-11, they can’t survive summer and, therefore, get treated as annuals. Gardeners plant the flowers in spring, and when the weather gets hot enough, the flowers die.
In a few regions in places like California with warm but moderate temperatures, pansies can live a perennial life cycle. Think zone 9b north of San Francisco. The weather must be perfect all year round. However, most gardeners treat them like annuals here.
The other zones will wipe them out in winter or summer and break their natural cycle. However, extreme northern and southern U.S. climates can still enjoy them, just with conditions.
Gardeners in cold climates might consider winter pansies, also known as V. Heimalis. The prime growing conditions are similar to regular varieties, zones 4-8. However, these hardy pansies go dormant in the cold and survive better.
After surviving a dormant winter, V. Heimalis senses spring weather and explodes with life again. The colors are just as vibrant and pleasing as the other varieties. People in colder climates should put these fantastic flowers to the test.
Growing as Perennials
Pros of Growing as Perennials
- Will come back each season.
- Low maintenance perennial.
- Saves cost of repurchasing plants.
Cons of Growing as Perennials
- Heat sensitive, and flowers may die.
- They may also die if exposed to frost.
- Only perennial in certain zones.
Pansies don’t like hard, dry soil, just like most plants. The secret weapon is mulch. Mulch protects the soil and plant life underneath by creating a protective layer of air space. In the protected space, the soil stays moist so plants don’t get cut off from vital nutrients as in hardened, dry soil.
The mulch should not cover the flower or stem at planting time. The primary benefit of mulch is maintaining damp soil. Since the soil still has moisture, if the mulch touches the plant, the contact could serve as the source of a fungal disease.
In winter, apply another couple of inches of mulch and cover the plants. There shouldn’t be any risk of disease in cold weather for pansies. Some people rake the mulch off when the frost passes. You can also leave the plants alone, and the new growth will push through the mulch anyway.
Growing as Annuals
Pros of Growing as Annuals
- Spring explodes with colors.
- Can replace flowers each season.
- Variable climates allow hibernation.
Cons of Growing as Annuals
- Winter gardening in certain zones.
- Dying or dead flowers in summer.
- Unexpected deep freeze damage.
Very few places in the United States have the perfect climate to grow pansies as perennials. If you live in the remaining 95% of the U.S. outside the 9b zone in California, plant pansies as annuals.
In that one zone north of San Francisco, pansies can live all year and probably live a two-year life cycle like other perennials.
The catch to treating pansies as annuals is that, technically, annuals start in the spring, thrive in summer, and fade toward death in the fall. Pansies don’t act like annuals in every climate.
Frigid or Hot Climates
In frigid climates that never get too hot, pansies go through the typical annuals life cycle. In climates with cold winters and hot summers, they die in the summer heat. Surviving winter becomes a toss-up based on how severe winter is in any given year.
In hot climates, pansies have no chance in the summer but can thrive during fall, winter, and spring. The cycle goes in reverse in hot climates, with life in the winter and death in the summer.
In most cases, you never worry about watering anything in the garden during winter. Pansies are different, though. These cold-weather plants continue to dig down with their roots. They don’t hibernate until the chill gets down to 25°F.
The best time to add water in cold weather is before a freeze. Before the ground freezes, the roots can absorb the water and remain healthy when the ground hardens.
Your pansies will be okay if you forget to do so and the freeze subsides. Just add water after the freeze, and the plants get the same benefit. Either way, add about an inch of water.
For some climates, the time will arrive when you need to prepare for winter dormancy. Hibernation for pansies means the temperatures will drop below 25°F and stay for a while. Daytime temperatures may climb higher, possibly into thawing temperatures.
If sunset and nighttime reach hibernation temperatures, your pansies need help to survive. In the plant hardiness zones, 4b is the triggering point. Vast areas of Wyoming and Montana are in zones 4b.
First, you should help your pansies retain water in the soil around them by already having mulch down that doesn’t cover the plants. Before hibernation, you can add water before the freeze and then lay down more mulch.
Mulch for hibernation can cover the plants because, as stated above, the risk of disease doesn’t exist in such freezing temperatures. If your winter isn’t too harsh, and the pansies survive, get ready for an explosion of life when spring returns.
Pansies offer a lot of versatility for beautiful gardens. You have the option to enjoy the colors in spring and clear the plants out for another summer crop.
You can also try to keep pansies going during mild summers and achieve a perennial lifespan. Gardeners from different climates can adapt to these plants, work with their local weather, and enjoy the beautiful colors in spring.