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Pansies or Violas? Key Differences & Planting Advice

Flowers that are tolerant of cold weather are not that plentiful, but luckily both pansies and violas offer a range of colors when the weather cools down. They can even be mixed and matched in a garden to create a wider spread of color across your early-blooming flower bed. The two flowers look so much alike that many people mistake one for the other. Some even think they are the same flower.

Pansy Flowers Are Violas... of a Kind

It's understandable why some people would think the two flowers are the same because pansy plants are scientifically known as Viola wittrockiana. They are a species of the viola family, but not the same as the plants commonly labeled violas at flower nurseries. Pansy varieties started as a cross between the common viola and the wild viola. There are a few notable differences.

Identifying Pansies vs Violas

Both flowers have five petals, but the telltale difference between species is the orientation of the flowers. The pansy flower has four petals pointing up, with one that typically dips down toward the ground like the flower has a little pout. Violas, by contrast, have two petals that stretch up and three that stretch down, giving it a little more horizontal balance in its visual presentation. There are also differences in the colors available. Lastly, pansy flowers run between six and 12 inches tall. That makes them significantly taller than most viola varieties.

Planting & Care Instructions

Since the two plants are cousins, they have very similar care and watering needs. Pansies tend to be a little more cold tolerant and will even bloom during winter in some locations. Violas are also very tolerant of the cold compared to most flowers, but not quite as much as the average pansy. This is because of the pansy's relationship to the hearty wild viola. Depending on the type you choose to plant, you may need either coarse or normal soil, so check the instructions and make sure you pick plants with similar soil needs if you are mixing and matching. Here are a few other basic care requirements:
  • Both flowers need soil that drains well, making raised beds or containers ideal
  • They can thrive in sun when the weather is cool, but prefer sites that provide full, direct morning sun, yet shield them from intense afternoon rays
  • Both die off as the spring turns to summer heat, so shade during the hot part of the day extends their blooming times
  • Plant them at least six inches apart, but no more than ten, to avoid empty patches in the bed
  • Put violas in front when mixing flowers to make sure they are visible next to their taller cousins
Plant either flower for the first time after the danger of snowfall has passed when there are no longer hard freezes at night. They will bloom as long as the temperature stays cool.

Popular Varieties of Pansies

There are so many types of pansies to choose from that it is not possible to list them all, but there are a few common series they are organized into with telltale traits. Violas come in a wide range of varieties including tri-color options, but do not have the same set of definitive series lines.
  • Delta series pansy flowers have many presentation styles and 32 colors, making them the broadest category
  • Majestic giants come in as extra-large flowers, over four inches across, with most types presenting with a dark center blotch and only a couple of solid colors to choose from
You will find the popular and novel colors when they are seasonally available, so it is a good idea to check out your options when you know replanting is due soon. You may find something new that you want to add to your beds. Learn more about what you will find in stock at Red's Home & Garden when you visit and then plan your supply run to take advantage of the current planting season.