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COLUMBUS, Ohio - In several garden plots on the Ohio State University agricultural campus, a splash of vibrant colors - blue, violet, white, yellow, red - stand out among the gray of bare trees and shrubs.
During a time of year in central Ohio when most plants are just beginning to wake from their winter slumber, fall pansies are in full bloom to welcome garden lovers to the first hint of spring.
Ohio State University floriculturists have completed their second year of fall pansy/viola performance trials. The plots are located just south of Howlett Hall within the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, and are accessible for public viewing. The plots are part of the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science's "Learning Garden" - an outdoor laboratory for learning about constructed landscapes commonly found in the urban Midwest.
Claudio Pasian, an Ohio State floriculturist, said the purpose of the trials is two-fold: to determine which cultivars perform well throughout winter and into spring, and to educate the public on pansy cultivation.
"When people think of pansies, they think of spring," said Pasian. "But they don't realize that they can plant pansies in the fall. Many cultivars will stay green through winter and bloom in the spring even before daffodils and tulips." Claudio, along with research associate Monica Kmetz-Gonzalez, are evaluating nearly 100 fall pansy cultivars and are assessing over-winter performance, flower and foliage quality and uniform growth. The final results of are scheduled to be released this summer.
Kmetz-Gonzalez said that many of the cultivars studied are available commercially and make good alternatives to other fall ornamentals such as mums. One of the keys to the success of fall pansies is that they can tolerate cold temperatures and will last through spring into early summer depending on the location.
Fall pansies are also low maintenance plants, requiring little pruning, weeding or watering. "They don't take much work," said Kmetz-Gonzalez. "You just plant them in the fall and they come back in the spring with a full bloom and with vivid color." One drawback to planting fall pansies is that a fully developed plant needs to be planted in mid-September or earlier, during a time when summer annuals are still performing well and gardeners are reluctant to remove them.
Pasian is hoping, however, that increased public awareness of fall pansies will increase demand, giving the greenhouse industry a boost in business. "Pansies need to be fully grown in the summer before they can be planted outdoors, and summer is a time when greenhouses are usually empty," he said.
For more information on Ohio State Floriculture research, log on to http://floriculture.osu.edu. A complete list of pansy/viola cultivars evaluated for the 2001 performance trials can be found in mailboxes located on the research site on campus. For the results of the 2000 pansy/viola performance trials log on to http://floriculture.osu.edu/archive/jun01/fpansy.html.