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Past Articles Library | Growing Violas

Welcome to a spring wonder, the viola.  The viola is the genus name by which over 500 species belong to.  It is a cool season perennial that is mostly grown as an annual.  If you are planning on grow this plant, you have two divisions.  The first one is the sweet violet.  This is a true perennial that can be found growing wild in fields and along roadsides.  The second is the garden variety of viola. This includes Viola tricolor or Johnny Jump Ups, Viola cornuta or the tufted or horned violets, and Viola wittrockiana. 

Viola tricolor or Johnny Jump Ups is a self seeding perennial that has nickel sized blooms.  These blooms come in a tricolor arrangement of purple, white, and yellow.

The Viola cornuta, better known as tufted or horned violets, is a spreading perennial viola that grows to a height of 6 to 10 inches.  The blooms are 1 ½ inches in diameter and can be found an array of colors.  While the colors may be diverse, they will all have a rays or lines of color running through each bloom.  These accents can be deeper shades of the bloom color or contrasting.

Out of all the violas, Viola wittrockiana has the largest blooms.  These blooms can be 2 to 3 inches across and be found in single colors or patterns.  The garden pansy as it is commonly known as is a short lived perennial that is grown as an annual, which has a mature height of 8 inches.   

When it comes to growing any of the violas, the first consideration is temperature.  While the violas will really grow anywhere in the early spring, as the temperature warms their beauty decreases.  To keep them looking their best in your landscaping, you first need to know your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.  The reason for this is the fact that violas can take the cold.  As a matter of fact, they can take it down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 through 10.  While I have stated that they can survive in zone 4, as the temperatures on the cold end increase the more shade they will require to survive.  In doing so, the viola needs full sun to partial shade depending on the area of the country you live in and whether you are growing them only as an annual or a short lived perennial.

Now that you know the light requirements, let’s move on to the soil type.  Violas require a rich soil that is well draining. 

Beyond the above requirements, violas are really easy to grow.

When it comes to growing violas, you have three choices.  One, you can purchase plants from your local plant nursery but shop wisely.  You want to pick plants that are not shop worn and not full of open blooms.  While the open blooms look wonderful and would give you instant color, these plants will not transplant well and in doing so will stop blooming.

Another choice you have is to grow your own violas.  This can be done indoors or out.  The technique you choose will depend on your time and space.  As far as starting your violas indoors, this starts out with your calendar.  You will need to start your seeds 10 to 12 weeks prior to your local frost free date.  Once you have that date in mind, you can begin to prepare your seeds.  What do I mean by preparing?  Well, viola seeds need to be exposed to the cold.  To mimic the outdoor environment, place your seeds in a zip type bag along with some soil and mist with water.  Seal the bag up and place in your freezer for 2 weeks. 

Once that 2 week period has passed, you are ready to plant your seeds in a prepared container.  Planting is simple and only requires you to empty the contents of the zip like bag on top of the moist soil.  The next step may surprise you.  Violas require darkness to germinate.  To meet this requirement, simply place them in a room that is not exposed to sunlight.  Signs of germination will appear 1 to 3 weeks.

After you see signs of your seeds germinating, bring them into the light.  Continue to monitor soil moisture and when the seedlings have their second set of leaves you can transplant into individual pots or leave them in the container and transplant directly into the garden space. 

Prior to planting in the garden, remember to harden off the seedlings.  Hardening off is a term that refers to slowly exposing plants to their new environment.  This can be done prior to your local frost free date. 

If you do not want to start your violas indoors, you other choice is to directly seed your violas.  This can be done in the fall or early spring.  The process is simple and starts off with preparing the garden space.  Remove any unwanted plant material and loosen the soil down 1 inch.  Next, smooth the soil surface over and sprinkle the seeds on top.  Gently mist the soil surface until the soil is evenly moist.  Continue to monitor the soil moisture until your seedlings have their second set of true leaves.  At this point, go through the seedlings and thin them out.  This can be done by cutting the unwanted seedlings or gently removing those that are too close and replanting them.  Either technique will work when thinning them out so that there is 6 to 8 inches of space between each plant. 

While violas at this point pretty much take care of themselves, there are a few things you need to do to keep them looking their best.  First, deadhead the plants.  Deadheading will spruce up the appearance of the plant while encouraging it to bloom more.  When temperatures rise, prune back your violas so that they are only a few inches tall.  This will also encourage the plant to bloom again in the fall when temperatures cool down.  Lastly, violas can benefit from a monthly feeding of a balanced fertilizer.

Violas in general are trouble free but watering improperly can cause problems, which includes plant fungus, spotting on the leaves and blooms.  To prevent this problem before it even gets started, do not water from the top.  It is much better to keep the leaves and blooms as dry as possible so when you water make sure to only water the soil.


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Is space a problem for you?

Then you might want to consider growing your vegetables, fruit, citrus, or annual color in tubs, 1/2 wine barrels, window boxes or hanging baskets.

All make great areas to grow columnar fruit, citrus, beans, tomatoes, herbs, or even onions or lettuce.

Get creative! What can you think of that would grow well in a small space?

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