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Q: In the fall, we often buy (at considerable expense) winter pansies. If I wanted to grow these little beauties by myself, what variety of pansy would I grow, where would I buy the seed, and when would I sow them (in the greenhouse) so that they would be ready to pop into the ground come September/October?
I’m afraid growing “winter” pansies is not all that easy. This variety of pansy seed requires very cool temperatures to germinate successfully, which won’t happen in July/August (the success rate is less than 40 percent if conditions are too warm). Today, bedding plant growers order plug plants (tiny little rooted plantlets) in July from commercial seed companies that guarantee success.
However, you can grow a “spring” pansy. Seeds producing varying shades of colour and flower faces can be ordered from any number of seed companies in June/July and sown in a greenhouse or outside in August.
Once germinated, transplant the “pinched” seedlings to a light potting soil in larger pots and keep in a cool area of the garden. The cooler temperature will help to keep the plants small and bushy, rather than leggy or weak, as well as help prevent black spot on the leaves (which appears when air temperature is too hot).
Fertilize plants weekly with one-quarter strength of either 20-20-20 or 15-30-15. Once fall arrives, they can be moved and kept in a cool greenhouse or cold frame. [Believe it or not, they do best in temperatures between 2° to 5°C (35° to 41°F) and can freeze solid and still survive.]
Through the winter months, keep plants on the dry side, as over-watering can cause powdery mildew, fungus gnats, leaf decay, etc. Should any of these problems occur, ask your garden centre to recommend a fungicide and use it on a weekly basis.
Once March frosts are over, transplant pansies outside into a rich organic soil with a liquid transplanter. Water well and watch them grow! Fertilize regularly with 20-20-20 or 15-3-15, and the colourful blooms on your healthy plants should last you well until June/July.