The first important step toward success with pansies is to purchase quality seed from a reliable company. One cannot hope to produce top-notch flowers unless a seed of top quality has been planted.
Pansies grow best where they receive the early morning or late afternoon sunshine but are shaded from the intense heat of the sun at mid-day.
Fine flowers may be grown on the north side of a building, but the plants have a tendency to grow leggy and spindly where they receive little or no direct sunshine.
Pansies may be grown in the shade of large trees, but tree roots quickly absorb the nutrients intended for the plants; thus intense feeding is necessary.
Importance of Soil
Soil must be loose and rich to produce pansies of good substance. Garden soil enriched with well-rotted manure, with enough sand added to make it loose and porous, is ideal.
Leaf mold or well-moistened peat moss is also a desirable addition to the soil since it helps to keep the bed moist and cool during warm weather.
Keep the ground loose by frequent cultivation, and allow no weeds to grow.
The more frequently the flowers are picked, the more profusely they will bloom. If seed pods are allowed to form, the blooming is diminished.
Time to Sow Seed
Since pansies bloom more abundantly and produce larger flowers in cool weather, Springtime is the season when they are at their best.
To have them bloom at this time of year, the seed must be sown the previous July or early August.
The plants can be wintered in a cold frame. It is not cold weather that injures pansies and other hardy plants, but the quick changes from freezing to thawing that do the damage.
Mulching the bed with evergreen twigs and boughs, or some type of mulching that will not pack down and smother the plants is one method of carrying them safely through the Winter.
Any mulch that excludes the air, however, is fatal to them. The cold-frame is the more dependable method in severe climates.
The seed may be sown in the open ground or in a cold frame where the plants are to remain permanently, but I prefer to sow them in flats, transplanting them later to their permanent location. In the seed flat, more care can be given.
The Seed Flat
A seed flat three inches deep, 12″ inches wide, and 24″ inches long, may be made from scraps of lumber and is large enough for planting one package of seed.
If the cracks in the bottom of the flat do not permit good drainage, small holes can be bored through the bottom, three to four inches apart. Use three parts spongy leaf mold mixed with one part sand.
The mixture is sifted through a quarter-inch sieve to remove course matter. It is then ready to be placed in the seed flat which should be filled to within a half-inch of the top. The other option is a bagged soil mix.
After pansies have been flowering for several weeks, they tend often to become leggy and unruly in their growth. To encourage new growth, cut the blooms with long stems including foliage.
This will encourage new growth at the base of the plant and prolong the blooming season. As the new growth develops, an application of liquid fertilizer is beneficial, firm with a small board.
Then mark rows about one inch apart and a one-eighth inch deep, into which you drop the seeds, spacing them about one inch apart. Then level the surface of the soil, filling in the rows until the seed is covered.
Cure Is Important
When the seed has been planted, cover the flat with a burlap sack; water through the sack until the soil is soaked and water seeps through the bottom of the flat.
The burlap covering prevents the seed from being washed out of the soil and is left on to hold in the moisture until the seeds have germinated and the seedlings have pushed through the soil.
The first seedlings may appear within a week but others will take longer. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Too much moisture may cause the plants to “damp off.” If the planting is done during warm weather, it is better to leave the flat outdoors, but in a shaded location, protected by a pane of glass, to prevent hard rains from washing the small seedlings out of the ground.
The glass must be raised above the edge of the flat to permit free circulation of air. When the soil becomes dry, remove the glass and water with a fine spray or pour water gently between the rows.
When the plants have begun to crowd each other in the seed flat, it is time to transplant them into their permanent bed. If possible, choose a cool, cloudy day for the transplanting. Set the plants from six to eight inches apart in rows eight inches apart.
I use an old tablespoon or small plant trowel in transplanting. Keep the bed moist at all times until the plants are sturdy and strong.
A mulch of dried lawn clippings, partially decayed leaves, or peat moss, is effective to keep the roots of the plants cool and moist.
Partially rotted straw, from an old straw stack, is also fine for this purpose. Place the mulch carefully around the plants, but never over them. During dry weather, soak the pansy bed twice each week.
Watch for Cutworms
Cutworms are probably the most destructive pest the pansy grower will have to deal with.
They cut off the plants just at the ground line, and, if left alone, they will destroy most of the planting during the cool, moist weather of early Spring.
They feed upon the plants during the night, but… burrow into the ground near the plant at daylight.
There they stay hidden until darkness falls again. Often they may be found by stirring the soil near the plant upon which they have been feeding – if a search is made for them shortly after daylight – before they have had time to burrow deeply into the ground.
They are so nearly the color of the ground, that one needs good eyesight to find them. Cutworms often grow to be as large around as a lead pencil, and from an inch to one and one-half inches in length. They curl themselves around the stem of the plant to do their feeding and usually will be found in this curled position.