15 Common Problems With Flowering Pansies
Are your pansies struggling this season? Pansies can fall victim to many different issues, so it's important to identify them early and treat them if possible. In this article, certified master gardener Laura Elsner walks through some of the most common problems with pansies, and how to fix them!
Pansies are the first annual plant I put into the ground in the spring (I live in a cold climate, this might be a fall/winter flower where you live). I’ve probably planted over ten thousand of these big blossomed flowers over the years. While pansies are low-maintenance flowers that can add some impact to any garden, they aren’t without their problems.
There are a few common issues with pansies that can display through a variety of different symptoms. Pests and diseases can both play a role, there are also some other common issues that can be a bit harder to problem solve.
So if your pansies appear a bit leggy this season, of if they look a bit burned to a crisp, there may be an easy fix. There are also a few problems that just aren’t easy to resolve. Keep reading to learn more about the most common problems with pansies, and how to fix them!
This is a big problem for pansies. When the stems of the pansies are creeping outwards instead of growing upright and bushy. They will also have spindly stems. Often they will have little to no blooms. This is a sign that they are not getting enough light.
They are trying to reach towards a light source and are becoming spindly in the process. Pansies prefer part sun conditions. Anything under 4 hours direct sunlight is not enough for pansies to thrive.
I plant pansies in the very early spring where I’m from. Before there are any leaves on the trees. So a spot that was sunny in early spring can become shady later in the season once the tree canopies fill in.
If you have leggy stretching pansies, trim them back to a nice mound and then dig up and move them to a sunnier location. Choose a different location to plant them next season.
Brown and Crispy Leaves
Crispy leaves on pansies are a sign of too much sun. While they do thrive in sunny conditions, too much sun can fry them. Especially the strong afternoon sun. If you can find a spot where pansies receive a lot of morning or late afternoon sun, with a bit of shade in the afternoon, that is the sweet spot.
I like planting pansies under small trees where light can still dapple through. Or in perennial border beds where taller plants can offer some shade.
If you have them planted in full sun conditions and they are getting crispy. Move them to a different area in the garden. Or you can try to water them more often to offset the effects of the sun.
Plants Laying Flat on Ground
This is usually a problem when pansies are first planted. You get them all planted up and they look great. Then you come back to check on them and they are laying flat on the ground. You panic. It looks bad. But actually this one is an easy fix. They need water. Give them a good deep soak and like magic they will perk back up.
It’s better to not allow this to happen over and over again. It will eventually weaken the pansy and the bottoms will turn yellow. But it does happen. In the beginning, when pansies are first planted, they need more water.
As the roots get established they will no longer need the extra water (just your regular watering routine should suffice) and will stay perky and upright all season long.
Lack of Blooms
Let’s face it – most gardeners plant pansies for their beautiful blooms. Having pansies that are all leaves but no blooms is disappointing. There can be a few reasons for this happening.
The most common reason is your pansies are not blooming is because they do not have enough sun. Along with no blooms, your pansies will be leggy (as detailed in #1).
Another reason your pansies are not blooming could be a lack of maintenance. Specifically, not deadheading them. Deadheading is the process of removing flowers after they have finished blooming. If you are not deadheading, the pansy flowers will go to seed.
After this happens the pansy feels its job is done. It’s grown, flowered, made seed, the life cycle is complete. When we deadhead pansies it signals them to make more flowers to make more seeds. I recommend weekly deadheading. It doesn’t take long and it will ensure lots of blooms throughout the season.
You can’t over-deadhead pansies. I sometimes only visit gardens once every two weeks so I make sure to take off blooms that are even slightly fading to make room for new ones. Doing this can help ensure your pansies bloom all season long.
If you are planning on being away for a period of time during pansy season you can cut your pansies back by about a third and they will grow back and be blooming again when you return. If you leave them you may end up with no blooms and just seed heads.
When pansies have yellowing bottom leaves it will eventually lead to the whole plant rotting off. This is usually because of overwatering, and/or inconsistent watering.
Pansies like more water when they are first planted. As I mentioned above, they will lay flat on the ground if they don’t get enough water early on. If you keep allowing the pansies to perk up then fall flat. They will eventually turn yellow and brown at the base. They will continue with new growth, but the inconsistent water will leave the bottom leaves looking bad.
Too much water will also cause the leaves to turn yellow. After the initial extra water to pansies, let them be. Constant overhead watering especially, will cause the pansies to turn yellow and eventually rot.
Rotting Stems and Flowers
Pansies will rot at the crown and die if they are constantly overwatered. I find this happens for a variety of reasons.
The most obvious reason is just plain over-watering. Pansies do not tolerate being constantly wet. Overhead sprinklers watering in the evening can be detrimental to pansies since they cannot dry out. I started noticing this in my gardens. I plant a few pops of pansies in my garden every year.
My pansies seem to outlast many that I’ve planted for friends, family, and clients. It doesn’t make sense since my garden gets the least amount of attention. But then it occurred to me that I water my plants less.
I use a drip hose snaked through my garden that I turn on maybe once a week if it is especially dry. Other gardens I’ve planted in tend to have overhead sprinkler systems that go off every day or every other day. The constant drenching of pansies will cause them to rot.
Another issue could be soil. Pansies like to be in the light, well-draining soil. If you have heavy clay soil, water will not be able to drain. This will cause your pansies to rot. Amend soil with peat or coconut coir prior to planting to ensure light fluffy soil for your pansies. Always use potting mix in containers and make sure the containers have drainage holes.
Pansies are cool-season plants. As the season wears on and things heat up, your pansies might just wilt and rot away. There is not much to be done about this. I try to trim back my pansies and just let them sulk until the cool season comes around and they catch a second wind.
White Powder on Leaves
Pansies sometimes succumb to this fungus. It is a white powdery film on the leaves of pansies that can be rubbed off.
Overhead watering and not enough sun are the main reasons powdery mildew will affect pansies. Watering at the base of the soil is better than watering overhead. If you are using a sprinkler, it is better to water in the morning so the sun can dry the leaves. Watering in the evening will mean the leaves remain wet through the night which is just an invitation for powdery mildew.
If you are watering your pansies at the base and in the morning and you are still dealing with powdery mildew, they may not be planted in enough sun. If your pansies are leggy and lacking blooms it is a sign of not enough sun. Powdery mildew will prey on these weak plants. Ensure your pansies are in an area where they receive some direct sunlight. Ideally in the morning or late afternoon.
If you have powdery mildew on your pansies you can spray them with a fungicide. But sometimes I find if the mildew is extensive, and the season is coming to an end, I might just pull the pansies.
Veil of Webs
Veils of web and mottled leaves are a sign of one of my most hated pests, spider mites.
Spider mites prey on weak plants. So ensuring your pansies are healthy and growing in their ideal conditions is important to avoid pests like spider mites.
Choose a location for your pansies that receive 4-6 hours of sunlight. Morning and late afternoon sun is ideal, with some protection from the hot full afternoon sun.
Next, make sure you have light free draining soil full of organic matter. I like to top dress my beds in compost in the late fall. I will also amend my heavy clay soil with coconut coir to help loosen it and allow water to drain freely. You will find most garden perennials like this mix of light free draining soil.
Now I water. I water more when they are first planted, then less once they are established. I aim for the soil line when watering and water in the morning so the sun can dry the foliage.
Doing those things will help avoid spider mites. But if you already have them on your pansies reading about prevention is not much help. Spray your plants with an insecticidal soap to help rid them of spider mites. I would do this weekly. If it is late in the season or the infestation is really bad I will just
pull them and plant something else.
Mottled, Sticky Leaves
If you notice mottled sticky leaves on your pansies, do a closer inspection. I bet you will find little transparent bugs clinging to the stems and undersides of the new growth of your pansies. These are aphids.
Aphids tend to attack plants that are weakened. So make sure you follow my tips in the previous section on spider mites to get your pansies growing in their ideal conditions. Part sun, loose soil, water, but don’t over water. If any of these conditions are not met your pansies are more susceptible to pests, such as aphids.
Aphids will suck the sap out of your pansies, leaving them mottled looking. They then excrete a substance called honeydew. Ants love this sticky substance. Don’t be fooled into thinking ants are eating the aphids. They are simply eating the honeydew secreted by the aphids. Honeydew left on the leaves will eventually grow sooty mold.
Depending on how many pansies and how many aphids are on them will determine the best treatment just a few aphids and I will spray them with the hose, scrape them off with a tissue, or bring ladybugs in to munch on them. If the infestation is too much, I will move on to insecticidal soap. Make sure to spray all parts of the plants. They live on the undersides of the leaves.
Slime and Holes
Slimey trails and chomped holes on pansies is a sign of snails and slugs. These slimy pests thrive in damp conditions. These are not necessarily the conditions you want your pansies in. Try to plant pansies in sunny locations. Don’t spray water on their foliage in the evenings, the leaves will remain damp and slugs and snails will love that.
If you are dealing with slugs and snails (sometimes we cannot control rainy damp weather) there are a few things to try.
Try sprinkling diatomaceous earth, this can be purchased at garden centers, around the base of your pansies. You can also use crushed eggshells. These are sharp and will cut into the soft body of slugs and snails.
Putting shallow trays of beer around the garden also works. It will lure the snails into the trays and you can just toss them out when they get full.
My favorite method for ridding the garden of slugs and snails is using slug bait. These are pellets that can be purchased from the garden center. I simply sprinkle them around the garden and they disappear. Be aware that these pellets can be toxic to pets if consumed in large quantities. They do eventually break down into the garden.
Purple Plant Leaves
I always buy pansies as soon as they are on sale in the Spring. Because I live in a cold climate, spring weather is not very warm here. But pansies can take below freezing temperatures. So I will plant my pansies. While they are well known for their purple annual blooms, purple foliage is another story.
Pansy leaves can turn a dark purple color. If it’s really cold they will get frost burned tips. But the purple color in the leaves is not really a problem at all. This is because the plants cannot absorb phosphorus in the cold temperatures. They will recover once the temperatures warm up.
Snow is actually insulating for pansies. If it snows on your pansies I would just leave the snow on. Once the snow stops and the cloud cover is lifted that is when the temperatures really start to drop. The snow will protect the pansies from that drop in temperature.
Holes in Plant Leaves
If you notice that your pansies have holes in them you may be dealing with a variety of caterpillars or cutworms that love munching on pansies. Cutworms will chew through stems and devour your panises.
I would start by hand picking them if there aren’t too many. If it gets out of control you can treat these with an insecticidal spray. I recommend one containing bacillus thuringiensis because it is non toxic to the bees who also love your panises.
Thick Club Shaped Leaves
I notice these thick large flat club shaped leaves on pansies from time to time. Sometimes accompanied with failed blooms. Turns out it’s boron deficiency. This is a weird one because you would think that just adding a fertilizer with boron in it would fix the problem.
But that isn’t the case. Once the symptoms appear in the pansy it is too late to apply. The deficiency is usually from the plug trays that growers use. So in this instance you have to really inspect your pansies before purchasing them and avoid ones that have thick club shaped leaves.
Applying worm castings to soil is a great way to provide all sorts of nutrients, including boron.
Yellow Spots with Black Margins
This is a bad one for your pansies. It is anthracnose, which is caused by a fungus in the soil. Prevention is key for this one. Avoid overhead watering so the soil is splashing onto the leaves and the leaves aren’t constantly wet. Also keep your pansies growing in their ideal conditions.
If you do notice these yellow spots with black margins on the leaves, pick them off and dispose of them. If they are severely damaged, pull out the pansies and dispose of the plant. Do not compost it because the fungus may not be destroyed by composting. There are fungicides on the market for anthracnose. Spray any nearby or less damaged plants with it.
Looking Run Down
Finally, your pansies are just looking sad. Leggy, yellowing, less blooms. Pansies are cool season flowers and things might just be too hot for them. Where I’m from I plant them in early spring. They look great until the summer heat arrives. Then they slowly fade.
I will cut them right back to about a third of their size and just wait. When the cooler fall temperatures arrive they will get a second wind. This doesn’t always work depending on how hot and humid it gets in your area. They might just look sad and fade away.
Pansies are a wonderful cool season flower. They are easy to grow and they have such big bright flowers. Most problems arise when they are not growing in their ideal conditions. So keep your pansies in part sun, light soil, and water them evenly to get the most out of your pansies with the least amount of problems this season.