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Violas are colorful for months to come

By Linda Hartman - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Dec. 10, 2016 at midnight

Violas are found in various color groupings like this Sorbet series. Shown above are mixed purple, blue, yellow, white and soft orange violas in six-packs at a local garden center.

Violas are found in various color groupings like this Sorbet series. Shown above are mixed purple, blue, yellow, white and soft orange violas in six-packs at a local garden center.

Summer flowers are gone, and autumn colors are fading away. What to do? Begin your search for colorful violas.

Those gardeners who plan ahead will have planted viola seeds earlier this year. Violas are related to the pansy family with bright colors such as yellow, apricot, scarlet blue, white and violet. Sorbet and Penny are popular violas which have done well at the Texas A&M test gardens and at the Dallas Arboretum.

Roses are red, violas are blue

My mental image of violas or violets is one of a bouquet tied with a ribbon and a paper ruffle. I must have read too many romance books. The hero in the book appears at the door of the beautiful maiden with a bouquet of violas.

Various uses through time

Did you ever wonder why the violas were so popular? Violas have been favored plants for many years. They were grown before the time of Christ for sweetening food and fragrance. Violet flowers have been used for medicinal purposes and love potions throughout the years.

Used as cake decorations, violet blooms are usually crystallized with rose water, gum arabic and a sprinkling of sugar before being added to a cake. Along with dianthus, nicotiana and paper white narcissus, violas were treasured for their fragrances.

Origins

Violas were grown in early Texas gardens as far back as the 1850s, and were popular in Europe even earlier. The viola odorata is a favorite choice with its dark blue or purple color and originates from Europe, Asia and Africa.

Mature violas will reach the height of 8 to 10 inches with an attractive foliage. Divide the mature clumps during early to mid-fall for propagation. When purchasing violas, look for plants with numerous buds.

How to grow violas from seed

Planting violas by seed requires much attention for successful plants, but it can be accomplished.

1. Begin with a good potting mixture and add two to three seeds per pot.

2. Cover the seeds with more moistened potting mixture, keeping the soil moist.

3. Germination should take 10-14 days in a dark setting.

4. Once the seeds sprout, move them to a sunny location.

5. Warm temperatures (not the hot Texas sun) and moisture will promote healthy plants.

6. After the first true leaves appear, move violas outside for a few hours of sunshine. Four hours a day should be good for hardening the plants.

7. Pots should be kept moist as outdoor winds and sun will quickly dry the pots.

8. After two weeks of hardening the plants, transplant them to a sunny location. Partial shade should be fine. Plant violas about 6 to 8 inches apart after thinning.

9. The outside temperature should be cooler by the time the plants are moved to their new home.

10. Continue to water and feed violas until spring when the heat will cause the plants to fade away.

11. Violas will happily self-seed in your garden.

Viola: violet or pansy?

Viola is a genus of flowering plants in the violet family Violaceae, which has between 525 to 600 species. Newer varieties of violas can be found with larger blooms and more colors.

Sweet violets/wood violets

Many of us are familiar with sweet violets that grow in fields or forests. The sweet scent and the deep violet color identify this familiar flower.

Garden violets

Garden violas include viola tricolor/ Johnny Jump-Ups (purple, yellow, white - and more heat tolerant), viola cornuta/tufted or horned violets (flowers have a variety of color with lines of contrasting colors), and viola wittrockiana/garden pansy (blooms are 2 to 3 inches with single or patterned colors.) Pansies are more compact with larger blooms having distinct markings. Trailing violas such as the Plentifall (Cool Wave), Endurio, Violina and Rebelina series are perfect used in hanging baskets and tall containers.

African violets

African violets are not true violets, and are mainly grown as houseplants. They have shallow roots and live in shade with a great deal of light such as on a windowsill. African violets belong to the Saintpaulia genus and have fleshy leaves that are covered with soft hairs.

Look good together

Just as people coordinate their clothes, gardeners plant for coordinated gardens either by having contrasting colors or similar colors. Suggested plants such as pinks, dianthus, flowering cabbage and kale, red mustard, stock, calendulas and snapdragons would be good companions for violas.

In our area gardeners may enjoy violas for many months until it is too warm for them to produce blooms. Violas can withstand some frost, but not a snow storm. Let's color our gardens with violas.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com.


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