Fall Pansy and Viola Performance

October 3, 2003 - 08:17

Results from the 2002-2003 field trials at The Ohio State University.

When we started our fall pansy and viola trials three years
ago, our objective was twofold: 1) to provide information to growers, breeders
and consumers about the performance of different cultivars and 2) to use the
trials as a vehicle for consumer education. The more the public is aware of the
gardening potential of this crop, the greater the chances they will buy the
product.

Since we started trialing and due to publicity of the
results, landscapers in our area have started realizing the potential of the
crop and are planting fall pansies. We have seen a small increase of fall pansy
beds in public areas like shopping centers and city plantings. This past trial
was good for testing winter survivability due to lower than average
temperatures.

Trial Site and Procedure

This trial, part of The Ohio State University Learning
Gardens, located just northwest of our departmental buildings on the Columbus
campus, marked the third year for our fall pansy and viola trials and the first
year it was conducted in-ground. Our previous trials had been conducted in
raised beds. Our new, in-ground site mimics more directly the "real
world" growing areas of homeowners, cities and commercial sites. The trial
site is in shade most of the morning, followed by approximately 6-8 hours of
full sun. The area, formerly in grass, was amended with Kurtz Brothers
Professional Blend. Pre-plant fertilization with 20-10-20 at 300 ppm nitrogen
was performed via liquid feed on Aug. 27 and Sept. 9, 2002.

A total of 83 cultivars were evaluated. Of this, 63 were
pansy (including six panola) and 20 were viola. Seed from the participating
breeders and distributors was grown on for us by Bob's Market & Greenhouse,
Mason, W.Va. 

Plants in 21/4-inch-cell packs were received in our
greenhouses on Sept. 11, 2002. On September 12, a Rootshield drench was applied
to the plants, and transplanting to the in-ground site occurred on September
17. Nine plants per cultivar were planted on 1-foot centers, and no mulch was
used. Post-planting fertilization with 20-10-20 at 200 ppm nitrogen occurred on
September 25 and October 9 and 21. There were no pest or disease problems.

Ratings are based on a 1-5 scale (1 = not acceptable, 5 =
exceptional). Plants were evaluated for the following characteristics: lower
quality (aesthetics, color, health and appearance), flower number (1 = low, 5 =
very floriferous), foliage (vegetative vigor, aesthetics/color, health and
appearance), uniformity (1 = quality is variable from plant to plant, 5 =
similar quality between all plants) and overall (rating for all plants in the
cultivar grouping), taking all the above criteria into consideration.

Weather Conditions

The temperatures during the course of this trial allowed testing
for overwintering. Minimum and maximum temperatures from mid-September through
mid-May were recorded by a departmental weather station located in close
proximity to the trial plot (see Figure 1, below). Plants got off to a good
growing start with favorable climatic conditions in September and October. The
first night of freezing temperatures occurred on November 1, and overall, the
plants looked good until the first very hard freeze occurred at the end of
November. The winter was punctuated by cold temperatures and some snowfall
throughout. The season low of -2° F occurred on February 1, a major
snowstorm on February 16 covered the area with 18 inches of snow, and snow
cover remained on the trial plants for the next three weeks before Á any
melting occurred. This snow cover was somewhat helpful in insulating plants
from the continuing freezing temperatures over the next month. The first
warming trend took place in mid-March, and favorable spring weather conditions
followed.

Trial Results

The fall evaluation for pansies and violas (see Figures 2
and 3, below) was performed six weeks after transplant by the trials
coordinator. Overwintering evaluations were done March 17 and 24 and April 14.
A final winter survival count was performed on April 23. Seventy percent of the
pansies trialed had 100-percent survival rate. All violas, except 'Penny Yellow
Jump-Up' (both 89 percent) and 'Sorbet Orange Duet' (89 percent), had
100-percent survival rate. Overall survival rate for the trial was 94.4
percent. The final spring evaluation for pansies and violas (see Figure 4,
below, and 5, page 50) was done by our core team of evaluators on May 1. Plants
were pulled on May 12 to make way for our summer annuals trial.

In addition to the top 15 pansies and seven violas (see
sidebars, page 46 and 50), many other cultivars performed very well. Violas, by
nature, perform more vigorously in this area. Of particular note in this trial
were the panolas, which combined the flower number, plant Á vigor and
cold hardiness of the violas with the larger flower size of the pansy. Of the
six-panola cultivars tested, five placed in our top 15 pansy list for the
spring evaluation.

It is clear that most pansies and virtually all violas can
survive a tough Midwest winter and thrive the following spring. Some cultivars
flower very early, even before daffodils and tulips. One possible reason why
fall pansies have not become a popular crop among customers may be the fact
that, in our geographical area, they have to be planted in mid to late September.
Later plantings do not allow enough time for good establishment, possibly
making plants more cold susceptible. In addition, at this time of the year,
most spring/summer annuals are still in good shape, and homeowners may be
reluctant to remove them to make room for pansies or violas.

The authors would like to thank Annette Duetz for soil bed
preparation and the Annuals Team of Master Gardeners who assisted in all phases
of this trial; Bob Barnitz of Bob's Market & Greenhouse for seeding and
growing on the transplants; and Ernst Benary of America Inc., Goldsmith Seeds,
PanAmerican Seed, Sakata Seed America, S&G Flowers and American Takii for
their participation in this year's trial. All results and photos can be
accessed at http://floriculture.osu.edu/archive/aug03/pansyviola03trial.html.

About The Author

Monica Kmetz-Gonzalez is research associate and Claudio Pasian is associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Horticulture & Crop Science at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. They can be reached by phone at (614) 292-9941 or E-mail at pasian.1@osu.edu.

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