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Pansies & Caterpillars

By Sheri Engstrom ; Updated September 21, 2017
Pansies are a spring annual.

Pansy Viola x witterockiana is a popular spring annual, or flower that completes its life cycle in one growing season. Today there are close to 5,000 species of pansies or violas. The Pansy Viola x witterockiana is a hybrid of many Viola species. The Johnny jump-ups Viola cornuta is a smaller relative of the pansy. Violas come from Greece as long ago as the 4th century B.C. Pansies did not start appearing until the early 1800s. These annuals often have problems with caterpillars.

About Pansies

There are pansy types according to color patterns of the flower.

Pansies come in just about every possible color or color combination in existence. There are three types of pansies described by the color pattern of the flower--the single, clear-color types, the single color with black radiating from the center types, or the common face types with dark centers. Pansies grow from 4 to 9 inches tall. The blossoms are 2 to 7 inches in diameter. They prefer full sun to part shade with fertile, well-drained soil. As annuals, they are United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardy in zones 2 to 11. Some perennial species are USDA hardy in zones 9 to 11.


Pansies make great container plants.

Pansies are hardy and are one the first flowers to appear in spring. They can withstand cool nights in the colder zones. The make great companion flowers to early spring bulbs in the garden, or they also make excellent container flowers for patios and decks.


A type of caterpillar.

Caterpillars or the larvae of butterflies are leaf-eating pests in the garden. The signs of caterpillar damage on pansies and other flowers include leaves chewed around the edges or leaves completely eaten back to the middle of the leaf. These caterpillars are fast moving and do a great deal of damage in a short amount of time.


The larvae of some butterflies and moths are known as cutworms due to the nature in which they destroy plants as they feed. The adults don’t do any damage. There are many species of cutworms and the larvae can damage a plant in four ways. One species, the solitary surface cutworm, chews off pansy plants at the soil line. Since the majority of the plant is gone, great damage is done attacking plants every night. The climbing species of cutworms do damage by climbing the stems of the pansy to eat the leaves and flower buds. The underground species stay in the soil and eat the roots. Army cutworms come in large numbers to eat the tops of the pansies and then march off to another garden.


Most control methods involve prevention more than eradicating the existing problem. Due to the fact that the caterpillars and cutworms are so quick moving, prevention is easier than remedies. Good gardening practices recommended include plowing gardens in mid to late summer to prevent egg laying. Plowing again in the fall is recommended to expose buried larvae for removal. Monitoring gardens often is also another suggestion to injure or discover hiding cutworms. There are home remedies given that include wrapping onions around plant stems or catching toads for the garden. Chemical treatments are available to apply around the plant and in the soil, but they do not really help control cutworms.


About the Author


Sheri Engstrom has been writing for 15 years. She is currently a gardening writer for Demand Studios. Engstrom completed the master gardener program at the University of Minnesota Extension service. She is published in their book "The Best Plants for 30 Tough Sites." She is also the online education examiner Minneapolis for Examiner.com.