The pansy experiment

By Jim Janke | Aug 18, 2014

Wave petunias were developed by Ball Horticultural Company in the mid-1990s, and quickly became the most popular petunias in the country. Now Ball has introduced Cool Wave pansies that are 6 to 8 inches tall and spread 2 feet or more. Cool Waves are supposed to bloom in fall and again in spring, and are said to be hardy in Zone 5 (so they should easily survive our Zone 6 winters.) Five separate colors and three mixtures are currently available.

I grow Wave petunias from seeds each year, and they always perform well. But pansies are difficult to grow from seeds because they require cool growing temperatures (as low as 55 degrees.) My “greenhouse” — a room in our basement without a separate thermostat — is a lot warmer than that. When I’ve tried to grow pansies from seeds the plants become leggy indoors and have difficulty making the move outside. And my experience with purchased pansy plants hasn’t been much better. But Cool Waves sounded like something I had to try. Here’s what happened.

Late last September I purchased two Cool Wave plants and put them in separate pots by the front door. Some traditional large-flowered pansies were planted in other containers nearby for comparison. I kept a watering can handy so they wouldn’t dry out, and fed them with a slow release fertilizer.

The Cool Wave plants spread quickly to completely cover their containers, while the large-flowered type grew more slowly. There were many more Cool Wave flowers, but the blooms were quite small. They would be good for hanging baskets, window boxes, and other areas that need a bit of color as an accent. The traditional pansies had much more flower power and would be better for mass plantings.

If a plant is supposedly hardy in Zone 5, it should survive a minimum winter temperature of -20 to -10 degrees. It got below zero in January, but not to minus 10. Yet both Cool Wave plants died, so the hardiness claim is questionable.

Since I’m looking for a burst of color by the front door, next time I’ll buy only large-flowered types. I’ll discard them when they stop blooming in late fall, then buy fresh plants again in spring.

Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828-456-3575. © 2014 NC State University.