With their cheerful, whiskered faces and wide variety of colors, violets are some of the prettiest and earliest blooming plants in the garden. While many of the 500+ species are perennial, these rugged plants can also be treated as annual plants for early spring color. Because violets tolerate cold temperatures, they can be the first flowering plants placed outdoors in the garden or containers (good news for gardeners with spring fever). Violets are extremely easy to start from seed, too. Once violets are in the ground, they will be happy to reseed for years to come.
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Violets come in a whole rainbow of colors. They are most often found in bright jewel tones, but there are softer pastel varieties that make a perfect accent to spring decor. Many varieties also feature multicolor blooms with intricate patterns on their faces that seem to have been hand-painted. As an added bonus, violets are a fragrant annual on top of their charming appearance. This diminutive plant can even stand up well as a cut flower in a small bud vase. Plus, edible violet petals can be used to garnish cakes and pastries, or tossed in a salad for a bright pop of color. A caution: Only eat flowers known to come from a pesticide-free source.
Violet Care Must-Knows
Many forms of violets are best grown in a woodland-type setting using rich, organic soils. While violets are tough in terms of their cold tolerance, they are neither drought-tolerant nor heat-tolerant. Make sure violets have consistent moisture, especially in warmer months. When growing annual-type violets in containers, be sure to choose a well-drained potting mix. Using a slow-release fertilizer will help encourage continuous blooms.
Although violets tolerate of a variety of light conditions, most will grow best in full sun to partial shade. Some woodland species tolerate more shade; in fact they can be planted in areas considered to be full shade. In warmer climates plant violets in areas that receive afternoon shade to help keep plants cool in hot summer months. Even this approach may not be enough to pull violets through because they are cool season plants). For this reason, violets often are treated as cool-season annuals and torn out once summer begins.
New Types of Violets
With hundreds of species available to experiment with, there are constantly new innovations in the world of violets. Much of the work in breeding moves toward creating more heat-tolerant plants, better perennials, and plants with larger blooms. Some new novelty varieties trail, making them excellent choices for containers and hanging baskets.
More Varieties of Violet
Common Blue Violet
Viola sororia, also known as the common blue violet, is native to the U.S. It blooms most heavily in spring, and occasionally throughout the summer. Zones 3-7
Viola tricolor has tufts of heart-shaped leaves and plenty of 1-inch yellow and purple flowers with brown "whiskers" and purple "chin" over a long period. It self-seeds freely. It grows to 5 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 3-9, but is often treated as an annual.
'Molly Sanderson' Johnny-Jump-Up
This selection of Viola tricolor has almost-black flowers that are yellow at the throat. It grows 8 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 3-9.
'Sorbet Coconut Swirl' Viola
Viola cornuta 'Sorbet Coconut Swirl' is a delight with creamy-white flowers edged in rich lavender. It's a heat-resistant variety that grows 1 foot tall. Zones 4-9.
'Sorbet Coconut Duet' Viola
This variety of Viola cornuta shows off purple and white flowers on a compact, 12-inch-tall, heat-resistant plant. Zones 4-9
Violet Companion Plants
It's easy to see the origin of bleeding heart's common name when you get a look at its heart-shape pink or white blooms with a protruding tip at the base of the heart. They grow best in partial to full shade in moist, well-drained soil. Some types bloom only in spring and others bloom spring, summer, and fall, provided temperatures aren't too high.
Looking like a tiny daisy, in England this plant is known as lawn daisy because it grows so short and so dense that it's a weed in lawns, albeit a beautiful weed. Technically a perennial, English daisy is usually best treated as a biennial (it takes two years to bloom and then dies in the fall) in the South and an annual in the North. Plants survive down to about 10 degrees F so they can be planted in the fall in the South for early-spring bloom. In cool climates, such as England and the Pacific Northwest, they'll bloom from spring planting until summer heat arrives.
Charming, diminutive forget-me-nots are delicate plants with beautiful little blue flowers. While they do come in pinks and whites, it's the blues that people find most delightful. Forget-me-nots are excellent in pots, as edgings, and planted close as a groundcover. These short-lived plants, mostly treated as biennials, reseed generously. The flowers have colorful, tiny yellow eyes and bloom in spring and into early summer. They are prone to damage by slugs.