Hardy annuals that are variously known as pansies, Johnny-Jump-Up, and Heartsease. Try your hand at making candied violas or simply pick some of the fresh flowers and scatter them over salads and summer meals!
How to Sow
Viola may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost or planted as a potted plant.
Sowing Directly in the Garden:
- Sow indoors 8-12 weeks before the last heavy frost using a seed starting kit. Violas can take a light frost.
- Sow seeds thinly and evenly in seed starting formula. Cover completely as seeds need darkness to germinate; firm lightly and keep evenly moist.
- Seedlings emerge in 10-14 days
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Thin to one seedling per cell when they have two sets of leaves.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Transplant hardened-off seedlings to the garden after the heavy frost.
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
Planting in the Garden:
- Direct sow violas in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil in fall in the South.
- Prepare the soil by removing weeds and working organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil; then level and smooth.
- Most plants respond well to soils amended with organic matter. Compost is a wonderful form of organic matter with a good balance of nutrients and an ideal pH level, it can be added to your planting area at any time. If compost is not available, top dress the soil after planting with 1-2 inches of organic mulch, which will begin to breakdown into compost. After the growing season, a soil test will indicate what soil amendments are needed for the following season.
- Sow thinly and evenly and cover with ¼ inch of fine soil.
- Firm lightly and keep evenly moist.
- Seedlings emerge in 7-14 days depending on the soil and weather conditions.
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the viola growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating.
- Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For annuals an organic mulch of shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
- Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It's best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Until plants become established, some protection from extreme winds and direct, hot sunlight may be necessary. Good air movement is also important.
- After new growth appears, a light fertilizer may be applied. Keep granular fertilizers away from the plant crown and foliage to avoid burn injury. Use low rates of a slow release fertilizer, as higher rates may encourage root rots.
- Remove spent flower heads to keep plants flowering.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
- Fall planted plants will bloom until there is a hard frost. They will reappear in spring and may die back in the heat of the following summer.
Harvest and Preserving Tips
- Violas can be cut back in midsummer as they get scraggly, which encourages new growth and re-blooming when cool temperatures return in the fall.
- Add violas to mixed plantings with low-growing perennials.
- They are pretty groundcovers, excellent under deciduous trees, and can be used alone or with other plants such as common periwinkle.
- Use violas anywhere you need an extra touch of color in spring-among other edging plants, with spring bulbs, in containers, and mixed beds and borders.
- Flowers are edible and can be added to salads or used to garnish plates.