Dear winter pansy marketers: what do you take me for?


Photo from the Icicle Pansy site.

Every year, right around now, near the end of the gardening season, we
northern gardeners are being tempted by racks of very pretty six-packs that go
by the name of “icicle” or “winter” pansies. The legend goes that you plant
these in the ground now, enjoy them for a couple weeks (the
rebloom is slow, as with many pansies), and then they will miraculously appear
again in the spring.

Never mind that the pansies certainly do not bloom anytime
near icicle season (that is, if you care to don your parka to take a look).
That’s just silliness in the service of a memorable name. I get that. What
bothers me is that I can barely get the sturdy perennials I plant at this time to survive
the winter, much less flimsy and temperamental pansies. Believe me, I’ve tried them—no
luck. Snow cover cannot be depended on throughout the entire winter; you can
always count on a freak thaw, especially in recent years, and continuous snow
cover is what these require. Or something. (Virginia is what I think they require.)

If the plants gave even a month-long show before crapping
out, that would be one thing. But no. 

Nonetheless, last week, I bought some. I had a purpose,
which will be revealed in Thursday’s post.

So again, winter pansy marketers—what do you take me for?
Don’t answer that.

Previous articleGarden Writer Wayne Winterrowd is Remembered
Next articleSelf-Seeded Pansies, November 22, 2009
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Really? I ADORE fall planted pansies and violas. Here in Michigan they overwinter fine and put on a stunning spring show. I was just complaining that I couldn’t find enough of them. Maybe it is because we have a better snow cover?

  2. I think it is the snow cover. I have had them come back if I put them in the ground, but they bloom so late the following spring that they wither when the temperatures get too high.

    I don’t bother anymore, just use them in containers and yank around Thanksgiving. We have a frost warning for this weekend.


  3. They thrive and bloom all the way to Spring here in NC. Violas put on a better show than regular pansies. It wouldn’t be winter without them.


    Not eco, organic, green, sustainable & etc.

    If a landscape I design NEEDS annuals it’s a FAILURE.

    Plugs, greenhouses, heating/cooling, shade cloth, forklifts, trucking, soils, wood pallets, plastic cell packs, water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides.

    Amazing, yes?

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  5. Tara, what about annuals from seed? That you start in your own home without all the stuff you mentioned above? Or annuals that you start from seed in your garden? I direct sow sweet allisium, four-o-clocks, marigolds, cosmos, zinnias, snap dragons and they always produce amazingly, and self seed happily, too. They are the only thing blooming in the high humidity, no rain late summer period when the perrenials have ratted out because I don’t water. To say if a garden needs annuals it is a failure is missing out on a whole bunch of beauty. And planting fun.

  6. Tara- some people (gasp) grow their own annuals from seed. Imagine! Also, pansies reliably rebloom until a hard frost and reappear in the spring here in zone 5 Kansas. We certainly don’t have a perpetual snow cover.

  7. Goodness, this is not a rant against annuals–I’m talking about a short-lived annual that pretends to be a perennial. I love my spring violas, which I plant in April and which look good through June.

    And, I have heard from other gardeners who say these winter pansies do what they claim to do–they sure don’t for me. I think the bitter chills of Feb do them in.

  8. Some of those ‘winter’ pansies have guarantees on their tags… You could look for those, so that if they don’t overwinter, you could get a refund. I’ve had success with them in Michigan, so I haven’t needed to use the guarantee yet.

  9. Pansies – violas – “johnny jump ups” – they are all cute – have planted them in the fall – some survive – some don’t – sounds like a normal gardeners dilemma. I always come back in spring and plant more. I love their little faces showing up out of late spring snows…

  10. Timing is pitiful on a lot of plants. I know strawberries are sold for some stupid reason in the spring at most places; and WARM garden veggies (melons, nightshades) are hauled out the first time the highs hit the 70s. Selling trees and shrubs in the middle of Texas heat is ridiculous, too. No one in the know would buy and plant them before October.

    Seed is the way to go when possible.

  11. Wow. I’ve planted pansies in the fall in both NC (no snow cover) and here in Massachusetts (good snow cover) and had them successfully overwinter in both locations. One area of pansies lasted for a year and a half until we had a hot, dry spell this summer! Does that make them perennials?

    Tara – I love annuals. They’re great, long blooming space fillers for areas that I’ve prepped but haven’t chosen perennials for yet. I don’t consider then a sign of a problem but just another option for my gardens.

    I grow several different annuals, most of which reseed freely. When I have to buy them I try to visit a small local garden center that specializes in annuals and vegetable starts. Or I seed in situ.

  12. Well, Elizabeth – you live in Buffalo, what do you expect? I’m a Buffalonian and we all know that the rules for the Blizzard City are different from those for the rest of the country. I love my pansies in NYC and won’t be planting them again this Fall because my summer ones are still surviving (took a lot of water this summer in a very concentrated area this summer).

    And as for getting rid of all annuals, I’m looking for some fun and a bit of change in my borders to complement the backbone of perrennials. To each her own I say.

  13. Yes, Eve, but then maybe they shouldn’t be sold here–

    I am sure many in Buff are disappointed by them. Not me–I expect death rather than otherwise for a lot of the plants i buy. I just assume it’s my fault.

  14. Location , location.
    I’ve planted pansies in Massachusetts and have had a beautiful show in the autumn and again in spring.
    Here in Northern California is goes without saying that pansies are a reliable performer all fall, winter and spring long. If it is cool enough or you are located in a shady location in the heat of the summer they will continue to perform.

    In regards to annuals not being sustainable, I think it is dependent on the grower and the end user . Most nurseries in California do not grow their plants in heated greenhouses. They are grown out in the open for better acclimation or under a simple metal framed structure with shade cloth overhead to protect from the birds, wind and sun. Pallets are recycled and you’ll find organic practices more times than not. Electric carts are the norm for both the nursery workers and the landscapers to use to get around the nursery.

  15. Elizabeth, They think you’re an optimist. All gardeners have to be optimists. It’s an leap of faith to commit any plant into the ground.

  16. Tara: C’mon. The jobs that annuals provide for thousands in this biz outweigh the “eco costs” Annuals add a changes of feeling to your permanent desgins.
    And when they are done they turn back into soil.

    They are much more recyclable than plastic, steel, aluminum etc.

    The TROLL

  17. whooee. all in a tizzy over pansies. pot size/root development in autumn is the real key. once again, you get what you pay for!

    so, here is what works in zone 6b:

    violas and panolas winter over better than pansies. the big splotch face pansies don’t winter over as well as others.

    buy ONLY 6″ or 3qt pots, 3 plants per pot, well-rooted. cellpacks and 4″ don’t have the root development to do anything in the shortening days and chilling down soils of fall and winter…not til spring, anyhow.

    plant in container gardens that can survive freezing weather, not the ground. don’t be cheap and destroy the plants by trying to separate the 3 plants per pot. moss to mulch. pot feet to keep pots from freezing to the hardscape. and of course, no tray.

    be fastidious about picking off dead debris and spent blooms to keep the slimy ick factor from doing in your plants (how’s that for technical talk!)in cold/damp.

    they’ll look good in october, november, part of december, some januaries, and look pitiful in february (like the rest of us). keep them groomed and they will revive and bloom in march, april.

    container garden violas/pansies should be replaced with hot season annuals/tropicals around the first week of May.

    compost heap or very shady spot with ample moisture for the violas and pansies.

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