There are over 500 species in the Viola genus, including annuals, perennials, and even subshrubs. Collectively, they are known as violas, though individual distinctive garden types are usually called pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), Johnny-jump-ups (Viola tricolor), or violets (Viola sorolia and others). As a group, viola flowers include both pure species types and many hundreds of hybrids and cultivars in all shades of the rainbow.
The fast-growing varieties grown as garden plants are mostly small-flowered annuals or short-lived perennial violas. Many violas will come back every year thanks to self-seeding. Furthermore, violas are edible flowers and make unexpected garnishes and salad ingredients. They can also be candied for a frosted effect and used to decorate cakes or other confections.
Violas flower primarily in cooler weather. How long violas bloom depends on the climate. They are perfect for starting and ending the growing season in colder climates, as well as for bridging the seasons in warmer zones where they can remain in bloom throughout the winter. The timing for planting violas also depends on climate. In cool climates, they are usually planted in the spring; in climates without winter frost, they can be planted in the fall.
|Common Name||Viola, Johnny-jump-up, pansy, violet, sweet violet|
|Botanical Name||Viola spp.|
|Plant Type||Annual, perennial|
|Mature Size||4–10 in. tall, 4–10 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Bloom Time||Spring, fall|
|Flower Color||Purple, orange, white, blue, yellow, red|
|Hardiness Zones||3–8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America, Europe|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Violas
Violas are often the first seedlings for sale in nurseries in the spring in cool climates and at the end of the summer in warm areas. Look for healthy plants with lots of buds. Mounding violas should be spaced about 6 to 8 inches apart. Trailing or spreading varieties can be planted 10 to 12 inches apart. Violas begin blooming about 12 to 14 weeks after planting seeds.
V. tricolor (Johnny-jump-up) varieties bloom about two weeks earlier than V. cornuta (horned violet); ‘Penny’ and ‘Sorbet’ will bloom nine to 10 weeks from sowing. These plants will bloom constantly, but flowers will be more plentiful if you deadhead the spent flowers. Expect violas to go dormant or die back during the hottest months of the summer.
Outdoors, the mounded plants make a lovely edging along a path or to define a garden border. Violas are as at home in woodland settings as they are filling crevices in rock walls. Combine them with other cool-weather lovers, such as snapdragons, calendula, and Dianthus. Or tuck violas between spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, to fill the space as the bulbs fade.
You can plant violas in pots or in the ground. Violas' size, compact habit, and long flowering period make them perfect for containers. Trailing varieties are exquisite in hanging baskets and tumbling over the edge of containers and window boxes.
Violas prefer sun over shade, but they don't like heat. This isn’t a problem in cool spring temperatures. But when planting in the summer, make sure they get some shade during the hottest part of the afternoon.
Pansies and the other violas are best grown in humusy, moist soil, such as a peat-based potting mix, or garden soil heavily amended with organic material. Violas like a slightly acidic soil; peat moss as a soil additive will help slightly acidify garden soil.
Water regularly, but allow the soil to dry out between waterings. They can tolerate some drought but will bloom best with regular watering.
Temperature and Humidity
Violas love the cool weather of early spring, and thrive in milder temperatures from 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Mulch and water will help offset the stress of high temperatures.
With proper care, violas can bloom all summer and most will bloom again in the fall. Or, particularly in hot, southern climates, they can be removed and replaced with another flower during the summer and then planted again when cooler weather returns in the fall.
Mix a slow-release fertilizer into the soil. Fertilize in the spring and again in late summer to promote a fall bloom.
Types of Violas
Technically there is no difference between violas and pansies. But there are many more types of violas within the genus that go by different common names. They include:
- Viola x wittrockiana: Also known as the familiar garden pansy, this hybrid is a short-lived perennial or biennial with larger flowers. But it's usually grown as an annual in colder climates. Plants grow about 8 inches tall and have 2- to 3-inch flowers that can be single-colored or patterned. This is the most popular of the violas, with dozens of different cultivars available. It works well in pots and baskets.
- Viola tricolor: More commonly known as Johnny-jump-up, this is a small plant that is one of the genetic parents of pansies. Some hybrid pansies will revert to Johnny-jump-ups as the dropped seeds sprout up as volunteer seedlings. In the garden, it is often used as an edging plant or as a filler.
- Viola sororia: Widely known as the wild blue violet, it is native to wooded areas and often finds its way to cultivated gardens and turf lawns where it is usually regarded as a weed—unless deliberately encouraged in native woodland gardens.
- Viola cornuta: Known as the tufted or horned violet, it resembles the pansy but with a smaller flower. These are spreading perennials with 1 1/2-inch two-toned flowers above a rosette of leaves growing 6 to 10 inches tall.
To promote blooming and extend the flowering period, remove or deadhead faded flowers by pinching off the blooms at the base of the flower stem. You can revive leggy or overgrown plants by cutting them back to about 3 to 4 inches tall.
How to Grow Violas From Seed
Violas are easy to start from seed. They are quite happy to self-seed all over your garden, but in cold climates, the volunteers might not bloom until quite late in the season. If you would like to start your own indoors, the process is very straightforward. Start seed about 8 to 12 weeks before transplanting. Mature violas can withstand occasional freezing temperatures, but new transplants may be damaged if exposed to a freeze. Warm climate gardeners transplanting in the fall should start their seeds in midsummer.
- Fill small pots or flats with sterile potting mix to about 1/4 inch below the top edge. Sprinkle two to three seeds in each cell or pot, and cover lightly with the more moistened potting mix. Violas need darkness to germinate, so cover the seeds completely.
- Set in a warm (65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit) location, and keep moist. On top of the refrigerator is a good spot. Seeds should begin to germinate in 10 to 14 days. Once the seeds sprout, move them to a sunny window or place them under plant lights.
- When the first true leaves appear, you must thin the pot or cell to the strongest-looking seeding by pinching or cutting the others at the soil line. At this point, a temperature of 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit is fine. You can also begin feeding your seedlings with any good balanced, water-soluble fertilizer.
- When temperatures and weather permit transplanting outdoors, begin to harden off the seedlings by giving them increasingly long visits outdoors over a period of 10 to 14 days. Start with one to two hours of sunlight, and gradually increase their exposure. Make sure the soil stays moist during this hardening off period.
- Once the seedlings have grown accustomed to full days outdoors, you can plant them permanently into the garden or into their outdoor pots.
You can also grow from seeds sown directly into the garden, though this works best in regions where there is a long growing season. Carefully prepare the planting area by amending it with organic matter, and then loosen the soil and sprinkle seeds. Cover with about 1/4 inch of soil, and water well. Keep the seedbed moist. As the seedlings develop, thin them to about 6 to 8 inches apart, transplanting the excess seedlings to other locations.
Violas do survive the winter in warm climates. And through the winter, violas can even continue blooming in these zones. Be sure to check the hardiness zones on your particular variety, as some have more cold tolerance than others.
Continue to fertilize throughout the winter; a liquid fertilizer is often better than granule for easier absorption if there's frost on the ground. Then, just make sure your violas are getting enough sun and not sitting in soggy soil. If your area is expecting unseasonably cold weather, add a couple inches of straw or mulch over your violas to help insulate the roots.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
To avoid gray mold, don’t let your plants sit in cool, wet conditions. And make sure your violas get plenty of sunshine and have good air circulation. If you notice aphids, wash the plants off with a strong stream of water. Or for severe problems, treat them with insecticidal soap.
How to Get Violas to Bloom
Violas bloom easily and for a fairly long time—most of the spring and summer, save for the hottest weeks. To keep yours blooming, deadhead spent flowers, lightly fertilize once a month during the growing season, and cut back your plants in late summer to prepare for autumn blooms.
Common Problems With Violas
While violas are generally some of the easiest plants to grow in your garden, you'll occasionally have small problems you can fix without too much trouble.
Brown Spots on the Leaves
Violas can succumb to a number of fungal diseases, such as leaf spot or anthracnose. All can be remedied by removing the affected leaves with clean garden shears and treating the viola with a fungicide.
Drooping Leaves or Flowers
Drooping leaves or flowers can happen for several reasons, including too much or too little water or overcrowding. This problem is easily remedied once you troubleshoot the source. If it's a problem with watering, stick your finger into the soil to see whether it's too dry or too moist, and adjust accordingly. If your violas look like they need more breathing room, replant with more space in between the plants.
Are violas easy to care for?
Yes. They need only the correct amount of sunlight, water, and deadheading to be mighty bloomers in your garden.
How fast do violas grow?
Very fast. Violas bloom 12 to 14 weeks after seeds are planted.
Can violas grow indoors?
Yes. Violas in pots are the perfect perennials to offer pops of color throughout your home.