Violets are old-fashioned flowers that are still beloved by gardeners. And why not? Their cheery blossoms and pretty leaves add a touch of romance and whimsy to the spring garden. All that, and they're easy to grow as well.
Growing Violets in Your Garden
Most members of the violet (Viola) family are perennial, though these cool-season plants are often grown as annuals since they don't do all that well when the weather gets hot. Wild violets, violas, johnny jump-ups, and pansies are all members of the violet family and have similar requirements when it comes to growing them in your garden.
Where to Plant Violets: Light and Soil Requirements
Plant violets in an area where they'll receive full sun to partial shade for the greatest number of blooms. While they're quite cold-tolerant, they don't handle heat or dryness well, so you'll want to plant them in rich, fertile soil that doesn't dry out too quickly. A good layer of organic mulch around the violets helps retain even more moisture and adds to soil fertility as well.
Watering and Fertilizing
As mentioned above, violets don't do well at all in dry conditions. You'll want to keep the soil evenly moist to prevent the plant from becoming stressed, which will decrease how well it blooms.
Fertilize violets monthly with a light feeding of an organic fertilizer throughout the growing season.
Deadhead violets (including pansies and johnny jump-ups) weekly throughout the season to keep the plant flowering. If it starts getting too hot, violets will start pouting, and no amount of deadheading or fertilizing will make them bloom.
Remove any yellowed or browning leaves to keep container-grown violets looking their best.
Violet Pests and Diseases
As far as pests go, aphids are the most common issue you're likely to see when growing violets. If you start noticing holes in the leaves or flower petals, look for the tiny aphids, which can usually be found on the undersides of leaves and along the stems. If you find them, apply insecticidal soap. This may need to be repeated on a weekly basis until the aphids are completely gone.
Slugs can also sometimes be an issue in moist areas. Consider setting a DIY slug trap nearby if you start seeing signs of them munching on the foliage of your violets.
Violets don't have many disease issues, but downy mildew, powdery mildew, and rust can sometimes be a problem if the leaves are kept wet for too long and there isn't good air circulation around the plants.
Violets can be easily grown from seed started indoors or directly in the garden. You can also propagate violets through division and by rooting stem cuttings.
Starting from seed is the best option if you're looking for less-common varieties than what you can find in most nurseries.
Beautiful Violets to Grow in Your Garden
Violets include pansies, violas, johnny jump-ups, and wild violets. All of them make excellent ground covers, and many look gorgeous when grown in porch pots, hanging baskets, or window boxes.
Pansy (Viola × wittrockiana)
Pansies generally have larger flowers than violas and other member of the violet family. The petals are also arranged somewhat differently, with two petals at the top of the flower, one at each side, and one at the bottom. Pansies don't make as many flowers as violas do, but the individual flowers are larger.
Pansies bloom in just about every shade imaginable, and where violas have lines or "whiskers" near the center of the blossoms, pansies usually have large spots of color. A few favorite pansy varieties include:
- 'Black Accord': A dramatic black pansy with a bright yellow center
- 'Delta Rose Surprise': Mix of pansies that comes in shades of blue, pink, and lilac-edged petals, each with dark, reddish-brown splotches at the base of the petals
- 'Chalon Supreme': A romantic, ruffled-looking pansy with deep purple petals trimmed in white
- 'Frosted Chocolate': A unique, caramel-colored pansy that has yellow markings toward the center and petals with a small white edging
Johnny Jump ups (Viola tricolor and Viola cornuta)
Johnny jump ups have flowers that are quite a bit smaller than those of pansies, and they tend to create more blooms than their larger-flowered relative. Most johnny jump ups bloom in shades of dark purple, white, and yellow, and mixes of those three colors.
They're also a bit more heat-tolerant than pansies--not that they'll withstand long bouts of summer heat, but they tend to keep flowering longer than pansies do once the weather heats up. Some gorgeous johnny jump up viola varieties include:
- Viola tricolor: These are the common johnny jump ups, with three-colored blooms of purple, yellow, and white.
- Viola cornuta: These two-toned flowers usually bloom in shades of yellow, white, and light purple. The easiest way to identify this particular variety is the small "horn" or spur on the back of each flower.
Field Pansy (Viola bicolor)
These wildflowers are often found growing in yards or in meadows. They have soft, deep purple to pale lavender flowers with white centers and subtle line markings on each petal. They grow on thin, tall stems above a rosette of small, oval-shaped basal leaves. The leaves on the stems get narrower the closer they are to the blooms.
Wild Violets (Viola odorata)
Wild violets are the typical violets found throughout the country, growing in back yards and along roadsides. They're often treated as weeds, but they actually make a lovely, dense groundcover in the right place. They have purplish blue flowers, though you can sometimes also find very, very pale purple or even white violets growing wild. The leaves are dark green and heart-shaped. Viola odorata grows as a perennial in Zones 4 through 9.
A Violet for Any Setting
Whether you like the large, cheerful blooms of pansies or the smaller, more numerous flowers of johnny jump ups, you'll be sure to find a member of the viola family that will work perfectly in your garden.