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Growing Violas

Cool Season Blooming Beauties for the Flower Garden


PanAmerican Viola 'Sorbet Primrose Baby Face'

PanAmerican Viola 'Sorbet Primrose Baby Face'

Photo Courtesy of the National Garden Bureau - www.ngb.org

The National Gardening Bureau picked violas as their flower of the year for 2007. Violas and pansies are such relied upon stalwarts that many gardeners take them for granted and think they know everything there is to know about them. True, violas are easy care plants. But in the gardening world, nothing stands still. Newer varieties of violas are being introduced with bolder colors and larger flowers that bloom longer. Even better, they exhibit better heat and cold tolerance than the remarkably hardy varieties where familiar with.

Viola, Pansy, Johnny-Jump-Up?

Viola is the name of a genus containing about 500 different species. Most of the violas cultivated in gardens are grown as annuals or short-lived perennials. However, many will self-seed and give you years of delight.
  • Sweet Violets - Most of today’s violas are derived from Viola odorata, the Sweet Violet. Sweet violets are true perennials. You’ll stumble on them unexpectedly in fields and lawns and recognize them at once by their heady, sweet scent and deep violet color.

  • Garden Violas - The violas cultivated for garden use are either:

    • Viola tricolor / Johnny-Jump-Up - a self-seeding perennial with nickle-sized flowers marked with purple, yellow and white.

    • Viola cornuta / Tufted or Horned Violets - Spreading perennials with a rosette of leaves topped by 1 ½ inch flowers in a variety of colors with rays or lines in a deeper or contrasting shade. V. cornuta may even has a slight scent. The plants can get 6 - 10 inches tall.

    • Viola wittrockiana / Garden Pansy - A short-lived perennial with larger flowers than its cousins above. The plant grows about 8 inches tall and has 2 - 3 inches flowers that can be single colored or patterned. These are usually grown as annuals.

How to Grow Violas

Violas are primarily cool season bloomers. They are perfect for starting and ending the season in colder climates and for bridging the seasons in warmer zones, where they can remain in bloom throughout the winter. So when to plant violas will depends on your climate.

Starting Violas from Seed Indoors - Violas are easy to start from seed. In fact they are quite happy to self-seed all over your garden. But if you would like to start your own indoors, the process is very straight forward.

Start seed about 4 - 6 weeks before transplanting. Violas can withstand some freezing temperatures, so cold climate gardeners can pick a transplant date that is about 4 weeks before your last expected frost date. Warm climate gardeners transplanting in the fall should start their seeds in mid-summer.

  1. Use a sterile potting mix.

  2. Moisten the mix and fill your flats or pots to about 1/4 inch below the top edge.

  3. Sprinkle 2-3 seeds in each cell or pot and cover lightly with more moistened potting mix. Note: Violas need darkness to germinate, so cover the seeds completely.

  4. Set in a warm (65 -70 degrees F. / 18 - 21 degrees C.) location and keep moist. On top of the refrigerator is a good spot. Seeds should begin to germinate in 10 - 14 days.

  5. Once the seeds sprout, move them to a sunny window or place under plant lights.

  6. When the first true leaves appear, thin the pot or cell to the strongest looking seeding by pinching or cutting the others at the soil line.

  7. At this point, a temperature of 55 - 60 degrees F. / 13 - 15 degrees C. is fine. You can also begin feeding your seedlings with any good balanced, water soluble fertilizer.

Moving Your Viola Seedling Outdoors - When temperatures and weather permit transplanting outdoors, let the seedlings get adjusted to the change by hardening them off.

  1. Move the seedling to a shaded or protected location outdoors.

  2. Leave them outdoors for about 4 hours the first day and increase the time outside by 1-2 hours each day, slowly moving them into brighter light. The seedlings will tell you if they are unhappy by their appearance.

  3. Make sure the soil stays moist. Outdoor winds can dry pots quickly.

  4. Seedlings can be transplanted into the garden or containers after about 10 - 14 days of hardening. Just be sure the weather isn’t taking a down turn. Violas can withstand some frost, but not a late season snow storm.

Direct-seeding Violas into the Garden - Weather permitting, you can start viola seed directly in the garden.

  1. Good well-draining soil with organic matter is recommended.

  2. Loosen the soil in the planting area and moisten.

  3. Sprinkle the viola seed.

  4. Cover with about 1/4 soil and water well.

  5. Keep the seed bed moist.

  6. As seedlings develop, thin plants to about 6- 8 inches apart. Transplant excess seedlings.

Purchasing Bedding Viola Plants - Violas are often the first seedlings for sale in nurseries in spring in colder climates and at the end of the summer in warm areas.

  1. Look for healthy plants with lots of buds. Don’t be overly tempted by plants already in flower. They won’t transplant as easily and you’ll have a longer season of bloom if the plants are only in bud when purchased.

  2. Remove the viola plants from their cell packs by pushing up on the bottom of the container. Don’t grab the violas by their delicate stems.

  3. Gently loosen the soil around the roots and plant in the ground at the same level as they were in their cell pack.

Spacing: Mounding violas should be spaced about 6-8 inches apart. Trailing or spreading varieties can be planted 10-12 inches apart.

Days to Bloom: Violas begin blooming about 12-14 weeks after planting seeds. V. tricolor varieties bloom about two weeks earlier than V. cornuta. ‘Penny’ and ‘Sorbet’ will bloom 9-10 weeks from sowing.

Here are some suggestons for selecting , using and caring for violas in your garden designs and containers.

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