The first of the trials began flowering last week with the Violas. Primed XP seed from Ball Horticulture was sown Jan 25, week 4 into Metro mix germination media in a 288 plug tray. The trays were placed in a germination chamber at 77 degrees for a couple days to reach stage 1. Stage 2 germination was complete by Jan 30, week 5. Germination and seedling growth were extremely uniform and the germination percentage was 100%. 50 ppm 20-10-10 fertilizer was injected beginning week 5 and increased to 100 ppm week at transplanting week 11. The plugs were transplanted into 606 cell packs beginning March 7, week 11. Open flowers were observed beginning March 19, week 13. The plants need to fill out more and bud up before being finished. The anticipated finish date should be about April 9, week 15 which gives give us an 11 week crop time from seed to finish.
Growth regulators were not used on these crops and plants are amazingly tight and compact considering the heat we’ve experienced. These plants have literally grown at temperatures ranging from 90 to 35 degrees and look perfect. These very early bloomers are great to have in the garden center for those warm spring days when customers are hungry for color and not much else will survive the cold nights.
To say the weather this winter and spring has been mild is an understatement! Very little snow cover or cold temperatures were experienced this winter. Annual plants hardy to zone 7 are returning as perennials (Stipa grass). Butterfly bushes (Buddleia) did not die back as usual and are leafing out from 5′ long branches. The first day of spring was ushered in with a record breaking temperature of almost 90 degrees. The season is effectively about one month earlier than ‘normal’. All the spring plants are blooming at once – daffodils, forsythia, saucer and star magnolias, ornamental pear. Keep in mind last year was one of the coldest, snowiest winters in a long time followed by a very cold, wet spring that was disastrous to garden centers and landscapers across the land.
Pansy Cool Wave Frost was the first of the Violas to flower and was the most floriferous. The flower petals turn more blue in cooler temperatures. The flowers also appeared somewhat larger than the other two early bloomers – Viola Sorbet Peach Melba and Sorbet Pink Halo. Pansy Cool Wave frost is a perennial pansy with a spreading habit of about 2′. Its being marketed as the pansy form of wave petunia. We planted it outdoors in an east facing border with afternoon shade last week March 28 and it was over 75 degrees. It was difficult to do much hardening off before planting since we’ve had so much warm weather so one test will be to see how these plants grow in temperature extremes. Our last average frost is not until May 9. Today is rainy and about 40 degrees so these plants will get a good test of growing in temperature extremes. We usually have good rainfall in spring but drought conditions in the heat of summer. The soil gets dry in summer and is mulched in summer. We plan to do minimal hand watering. We will observes summer dieback of this pansy and hopefully refrain from digging it up if it does die down to see how it perks up in the cooling temperatures of autumn. We will also be planting some hanging baskets and using it as a ‘spiller’ in mixed spring containers.
Viola Peach Melba has Viola cornuta parentage so it should also be perennial. Our flower color is much bolder than other images and flowers don’t have the red ‘caps overlaying the yellow side petals. The Sorbet series are billed as being tolerant of temperature extremes and superior branching with less stretch. We shall see what changes cooler weather brings. The colors make this useful for autumn sales although pansy is seen in Wisconsin as strictly a spring flower.
Viola Sorbet Pink Halo seems to be more of a purple halo in our experience. Same performance as peach Melba but probably more of an appealing spring color to consumers. This will be a knockout in mixed containers. It is the smallest plant of the three blooming right now