From tiny Johnny jump-ups that pop up each spring to cheerful large-flowered pansies, violas are popular garden plants that bring smiles to all. Flowers come in a rainbow of colors, many with intriguing blotches and endearing, whisker-like lines radiating from the center, resulting in blooms that resemble upturned faces. Violas love cool weather and are some of the first plants for sale in spring, bringing much-needed bursts of color after a gray winter. They prefer cool temperatures and stop blooming in hot weather, so they’re commonly planted in early spring and then replaced with heat-lovers in summer. They’re also popular additions to fall plantings.
The Viola genus includes more than 500 species and includes perennials and annuals. Many have been cultivated for hundreds of years for their beauty, scent, and medicinal properties. Due to this long history, and the fact that plant breeders have created hundreds of hybrids by crossing different species, the terminology surrounding violas can get confusing. In general, large-flowered types are called pansies and small-flowered types are referred to as violets.
Pansies (Viola × wittrockiana) are small, mounding plants with large blooms in a range of vibrant colors; many are multicolored and/or have distinctive markings.
Violets (Viola spp.) include many smaller-flowing species and hybrids. Available in a range of flower colors, they produce small mounds of foliage topped with abundant blooms in cool weather.
Johnny jump-up (Viola tricolor) is a small plant with sweet, whimsical flowers in shades of purple, yellow and white. This hardy, spring-flowering perennial is short-lived and is often grown as an annual, though it readily self-sows so seedlings may “jump up” in unexpected places.
The flowers of pansies, violets, and Johnny Jump-Ups are edible. Add them to salads, float them in drinks, display them on cakes, or freeze them in ice cubes.
Growing Zones for Violas
Although they’re often grown as annuals, most violas are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8. Because they thrive in cool temperatures and may get leggy or die back in summer’s heat, they’re often grown as annuals to adorn spring and fall gardens.
Choosing a Site to Grow Violas
Violas are small plants, making them ideal for tucking into a rock garden, edging a sidewalk or driveway, filling in the front of a perennial border, or adding to containers where you can enjoy the vibrant blooms up close.
Although violas bloom best when planted in full sun, the drawback is that they’ll stop flowering in hot, dry weather. If you’ll be replacing them in summer, you can plant violas in full sun or part shade. If you hope to keep them all season, choose a spot in part shade. Small-flowered types tend to tolerate more sun and heat than large-flowered pansies. All violas require rich soil that drains freely.
Planting Instructions for Violas
Although violas can be started from seed, the plants are slow-growing and should be started indoors 10 to 12 weeks before your last frost date. Most gardeners purchase young plants, which are available in garden centers in early spring and again in late summer.
Showcase violets in the vegetable garden, flower garden, or let the perennial violet naturalize under trees and in wooded areas. Violets are easiest planted as transplants since the seeds are small and take many weeks to grow into a transplantable size. Plant perennial or annual violet seedlings in spring a few weeks before your last frost date. Plant annual violas again in fall for autumn color and to over winter in mild winter areas.
If you want to plant seeds, sow them 8 to 12 weeks before transplanting. Keep the soil and air temperatures cool (60°F) for best germination and growth.
Loosen soil to a depth of 8” and mix in plenty of compost and some slow-release granular fertilizer. Set the plants at the same depth as they were in their pots and space them 8” to 10” apart. Water them well after planting, and continue watering as needed to keep the soil moist but not saturated. A scattering of an organic mulch, such as pine straw or wood chips, will conserve soil moisture, keep soil cool, and discourage weeds.
Fertilizer for Violas
To bloom their best, violas should be fertilized monthly during active growth in spring and fall. Stop fertilizing in summer when their growth slows or stops.
Viola Pests and Problems
Violas are generally free from pests and diseases. Allow plenty of space around plants to promote good air circulation, which will help prevent foliar diseases. Occasionally, the plants will attract small insects like aphids; you can control these by washing them off with a hose or spraying insecticidal soap. In wet areas slugs may feast on the leaves and flowers. Spread slug bait, such as iron-phosphate, or protect plants in pots by wrapping the container lip with copper strips to prevent damage.
Ongoing Care for Violas
Keep soil consistently moist and remove spent flowers to prolong blooming. After the first flush of flowers has passed, usually by early summer, you can trim back plants to keep them tidy and encourage additional blooms. Some violas will self-sow, so you may find plants popping up elsewhere in your garden and landscape. However, because some violas are hybrids, those seedlings may not be identical as the parent plant. Fertilize in spring and again in fall with an all-purpose product to stimulate lush growth and plentiful flowers. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooms.
Harvesting flower for Eating
Harvest freshly opened flowers in the morning when the oils are most concentrated and blooms look their best. The more you harvest, the more blooms will form. Harvest the sepals (base of the flowers) with the petals for added flavor