Create Your Garden

Violets (Viola): How to Grow and Care with Success

Sweet Violet, Viola odorata, Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia, Yellow Violet, Viola pubescens, Pansies, Viola × wittrockiana

Violets, Violet, Viola, Pansy, Pansies, Sweet Violet, Viola odorata, Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia, Yellow Violet, Viola pubescens, Viola × wittrockiana

What are Violets?

Violets are a group of flowering plants in the genus Viola, which belongs to the Violaceae family. There are around 500 to 600 species within the genus, found in various habitats across the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Violets are characterized by their heart-shaped or rounded leaves and their five-petaled flowers, which come in a wide range of colors, including purple, blue, yellow, white, and combinations thereof.

Growth habit: Violets are typically herbaceous perennials, although some species can be annuals or small shrubs. They generally form clumps or spread through creeping stems called stolons or rhizomes, depending on the species.

Size: Violets vary in size, with most species ranging from 2 to 12 inches (5-30 cm) in height. The width of the plants can also vary depending on the species and growth habits.

Flowers: Violet flowers usually have bilateral symmetry, featuring two upper petals, two lateral petals, and a lower petal that often has a nectar spur. The flowers can be single or appear in small clusters.

Blooming season: Violets typically bloom in spring, although some species can also flower in the summer or even early autumn.

Hardiness: The hardiness of violets varies depending on the species, with many being suitable for USDA hardiness zones 3-9.

Uses: Violets are often used in gardens as ornamental plants, adding color to borders, rock gardens, or woodland settings. Some species have edible flowers and leaves, which can be used in salads, desserts, and teas.

Violets have a long history of use in traditional medicine, with some species being used for their anti-inflammatory, expectorant, and diuretic properties. Additionally, many violet species are known to be fragrant and have been used in perfumery.

Deer and rabbit resistance: While violets are not entirely resistant to deer and rabbits, they are not usually the first choice for these animals. However, in the absence of preferred food sources, deer and rabbits may still eat violets.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Plant Type Annuals, Perennials
Genus Viola
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun, Shade
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Fragrant, Showy
Attracts Bees, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Ground Covers, Edging, Beds And Borders, Ponds And Streams, Underplanting Roses And Shrubs
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Coastal Garden, Gravel and Rock Garden, Informal and Cottage
Viola ‘Sorbet Carmine Rose’ (Horned Violet)
Viola ‘Sorbet Coconut Swirl’ (Horned Violet)
Viola ‘Sorbet Lemon Blueberry Swirl’ (Horned Violet)

Why should I grow Violets?

There are several reasons to consider growing violets in your garden or as houseplants:

Attractive flowers: Violets are known for their charming, delicate flowers that come in various shades of purple, blue, yellow, and white. Their blooms can add a touch of color and elegance to your garden or indoor spaces.

Versatile planting options: Violets can be used in a variety of garden settings, such as borders, rock gardens, woodland gardens, or even as ground cover. They can also be grown in containers or as houseplants, offering flexibility for gardeners with limited space or those who want to enjoy violets indoors.

Low maintenance: Violets are generally low-maintenance plants that require minimal care once established.

Pollinator-friendly: Violets attract a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and moths, which can help support a healthy ecosystem in your garden.

Edible: Some violet species, such as sweet violet (Viola odorata), have edible flowers and leaves that can be used in salads, desserts, and teas.

Fragrance: Many violet species are fragrant, adding a pleasant scent to your garden or indoor spaces. Sweet violet (Viola odorata), in particular, is known for its lovely aroma and has been used in perfumery.

Cold-hardy: Many violet species are cold-hardy perennials, making them suitable for a wide range of climates. This means they can be a reliable and long-lasting addition to your garden.

Main Types of Violets

There are numerous species within the Viola genus, but some of the main types of violets that are popular among gardeners and commonly found in cultivation include:

Sweet Violet (Viola odorata): Sweet violet is a perennial species known for its fragrant, purple flowers. It is often used in perfumery, cooking, and traditional medicine. Sweet violets prefer partial shade and well-drained, moist soil.

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia): This native North American species has heart-shaped leaves and blue-purple flowers. Common blue violets can be found in meadows and woodlands and are suitable for naturalizing in a garden setting. They grow well in full sun to partial shade and moist, well-draining soil.

Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens): Yellow violets feature bright yellow flowers and are native to the eastern United States and Canada. They grow in moist woodlands and prefer partial shade and well-drained soil.

Pansies (Viola × wittrockiana): Pansies are hybrid cultivars derived from wild violets. They have large, showy flowers that come in various colors and patterns. Pansies are typically grown as cool-season annuals or biennials and prefer full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.

Horned Violet (Viola cornuta): This perennial species has flowers that range from violet-blue to white, often with a yellow center. Horned violets are low-growing and form compact mounds, making them suitable for borders, rock gardens, or ground cover. They prefer full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.

Johnny Jump Up (Viola tricolor (Wild Pansy): This small, short-lived perennial or biennial has charming, tri-colored flowers in shades of purple, yellow, and white. They often self-seed and can naturalize in a garden setting. Wild pansies prefer full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.

These are just a few examples of the many species and cultivars within the Viola genus. Violets are versatile and offer a wide range of options for gardeners, from delicate woodland species to showy pansy hybrids.

Viola affinis (Sand Violet)
Viola bicolor (Field Pansy)
Viola canadensis (Canadian Violet)

What are the differences between Pansies and Violets?

Pansies and violets are both members of the Viola genus within the Violaceae family, but they have some key differences that set them apart. Here are the main differences between pansies and violets:

Appearance:

Pansies (Viola × wittrockiana) are hybrid cultivars derived from crossing various Viola species. They have large, showy flowers with overlapping petals, often with distinct “face-like” markings or blotches. Pansy flowers come in a wide range of colors, including purple, blue, yellow, red, white, and multicolored combinations. Pansy leaves are generally oval or heart-shaped, and the plants grow in a more compact, mounded habit.

Violets, on the other hand, have smaller, less showy flowers compared to pansies. Their flowers have five petals, often with a more delicate appearance and no “face-like” markings. Violets have more modest color ranges, mainly in shades of purple, blue, white, and yellow. Violet leaves are usually heart-shaped or rounded, and their growth habit is more spreading, with some species forming clumps or sending out runners.

Blooming Season:

Pansies are typically grown as cool-season annuals or biennials, and they bloom in spring and fall. In milder climates, they can continue to bloom throughout the winter.

Violets generally bloom in the spring, although some species can flower in summer or early autumn. The blooming period for violets is often shorter compared to pansies.

Hardiness and Growth Conditions:

Pansies prefer cooler temperatures and will begin to fade as the weather warms up during the summer months. They can tolerate light frost and are generally grown as annuals or biennials, although they can sometimes be short-lived perennials.

Violets are generally more cold-tolerant than pansies and can be grown as perennials in a wider range of climates.

Uses:

Pansies are mainly used as ornamental plants in garden beds, borders, and containers due to their showy flowers and compact growth habit. They are less likely to be used for culinary or medicinal purposes compared to violets.

Violets have a variety of uses beyond ornamental gardening. Some species, such as sweet violet (Viola odorata), have edible flowers and leaves that can be used in salads, desserts, and teas. Violets also have a history of use in traditional medicine and perfumery.

Viola adunca (Western Blue Violet)
Viola cornuta ‘Halo Lilac’ (Horned Violet)
Viola cucullata (Marsh Blue Violet)

When to Plant Violets

  • The best time to plant violets depends on the specific type you are planting and your climate. Generally, violets can be planted in early spring or fall.
  • For annuals or biennials like pansies, planting in early spring or fall allows the plants to establish themselves before the heat of summer or cold of winter.

Where to Plant Violets

Violets can be planted in various locations in your garden, depending on the species’ preferences and your garden conditions:

  • Light: Most violets prefer partial shade, although some species can tolerate full sun. It’s essential to research the specific violet species you plan to plant and select a suitable location based on its light requirements.
  • Soil: Violets generally prefer moist, well-draining soil. Some species can tolerate a range of soil types, from sandy to clay soils, but good drainage is crucial for the plant’s health.
  • Space: Choose a location that provides enough space for the violets to spread and grow. Some species, like common blue violets, can spread through stolons or rhizomes, so providing them with enough room to expand is essential.

How to Plant Violets

  • Prepare the planting area: Remove any weeds, rocks, or debris from the planting site. Loosen the soil and amend it with organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve drainage and fertility.
  • Dig a hole: Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball of the violet plant. If you are planting multiple violets, space them according to the specific species’ requirements, generally 6-12 inches apart for most species.
  • Plant the violet: Gently remove the violet from its container, being careful not to damage the roots. Place the plant in the hole so that the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Fill in the hole with soil, gently firming it down to eliminate air pockets.
  • Water: Water the newly planted violets thoroughly, ensuring the soil is evenly moist.

You can successfully establish these charming plants in your garden by planting violets at the right time, selecting an appropriate location, and following proper planting techniques.

Viola glabella (Pioneer Violet)
Viola labradorica (Labrador Violet)
Viola langsdorffii (Alaska Violet)

Violet Care

Caring for violets involves providing the appropriate growing conditions, regular watering, and occasional maintenance. Here are some general guidelines for violet care:

  • Watering: Violets prefer consistently moist soil. Water the plants regularly, especially during hot, dry periods. Be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot. Use your finger to check the soil moisture about 1-2 inches (2-5 cm) below the surface; if it feels dry, it’s time to water.
  • Fertilizing: Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or organic fertilizer, such as compost or well-rotted manure, in spring to promote healthy growth. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of flowering.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as bark chips or shredded leaves, around the base of the violets to help conserve moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds.
  • Deadheading and pruning: Remove spent flowers to encourage continuous blooming and maintain a tidy appearance. Prune any damaged or diseased foliage, and cut back any excessive growth to promote bushier plants.
  • Overwintering: Many violet species are cold-hardy perennials, but if you live in a region with harsh winters or are growing less hardy species, consider mulching around the base of the plants to provide extra insulation. Potted violets can be moved to a protected location, such as a garage or shed, during the coldest months.
Viola odorata ‘Queen Charlotte’ (Sweet Violet)
Viola palustris (Marsh Violet)
Viola pedata (Bird’s Foot Violet)

Landscaping with Violets

Violets can be a beautiful and versatile addition to your landscape. They provide color, texture, and fragrance to various garden settings. Here are some ideas on how to incorporate violets into your landscape:

Woodland garden: Violets are a natural choice for woodland gardens, as many species thrive in dappled shade and moist, humus-rich soil. Plant them among other shade-loving plants, such as hostas, ferns, and astilbes, to create a lush, textured landscape.

Border planting: Use violets to create an attractive border along pathways, garden beds, or at the edge of a lawn. They provide a low-growing, colorful edge that softens hard lines and defines spaces within your landscape.

Rock garden: Some violet species, like Viola cornuta (horned violet), are well-suited to rock gardens. Plant them among rocks or in crevices to add color and interest to an alpine or rock garden setting.

Ground cover: Many violet species can be used as ground cover, filling in gaps between larger plants or covering bare soil. Common blue violets (Viola sororia) and sweet violets (Viola odorata) are particularly effective at forming a dense, low-growing carpet of foliage and flowers.

Container gardens: Plant violets in containers or window boxes for a burst of color on patios, balconies, or other outdoor living spaces. Combine them with other cool-season plants, such as primroses, forget-me-nots, and small spring bulbs, for a colorful display.

Naturalizing: Allow violets to naturalize in informal garden areas like meadows or wildflower gardens. Some species, like Viola tricolor (wild pansy) and Viola sororia (common blue violet), will readily self-seed and spread, creating a natural, effortless look.

Pollinator garden: Include violets in a pollinator-friendly garden to attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. Combine them with other nectar-rich plants, such as lavender, catmint, and echinacea, to create a haven for pollinators.

Underplanting: Use violets as underplanting for larger plants, such as shrubs, small trees, or tall perennials. They can help fill in gaps, add color, and suppress weeds.

With their delicate flowers, versatile growth habit, and varied species, violets can be incorporated into numerous garden settings to enhance your landscape’s overall appearance and function.

Viola pedatifida (Prairie Violet)
Viola pubescens (Downy Yellow Violet)
Viola sororia (Common Blue Violet)

How to Propagate

There are several methods to propagate violets, including through seeds, division, and stem cuttings. Here’s a brief overview of each method:

Propagation by seeds

  • Collect seeds from mature violet plants or purchase them from a reputable supplier.
  • Sow seeds in a tray or small pot filled with a well-draining seed compost mix. Press the seeds gently into the soil, but do not bury them; they need light to germinate.
  • Cover the tray or pots with a clear plastic cover or place them in a propagator to maintain humidity.
  • Place the tray or pots in a bright location but out of direct sunlight. Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy.
  • Germination can take anywhere from 10 days to several weeks, depending on the species and conditions.
  • Once seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves, carefully transplant them into individual pots.
  • Gradually acclimate the young plants to outdoor conditions before transplanting them into their final location in the garden.

Propagation by division

  • The best time to divide violets is in the early spring or fall when the plants are not in full bloom.
  • Carefully dig up the clump of violets you wish to divide, trying not to damage the roots.
  • Gently tease apart the roots with your fingers or use a knife to separate the clump into individual plants, making sure each division has a good root system and some foliage.
  • Replant the divisions in prepared soil, spacing them according to the specific species’ requirements.
  • Water the transplanted divisions well and keep the soil consistently moist until the plants are established.

Propagation by stem cuttings (for some species)

  • Choose healthy, non-flowering stems from the parent violet plant.
  • Cut a 2-4 inch section of the stem just below a leaf node, and remove the lower leaves.
  • Dip the cut end of the stem into rooting hormone (optional, but can help promote root development).
  • Insert the cutting into a pot filled with a well-draining, moistened potting mix.
  • Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag or place it in a propagator to maintain humidity.
  • Place the pot in a bright location but out of direct sunlight. Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy.
  • In several weeks, the cutting should develop roots. Once the cutting has rooted and begun to grow, gradually acclimate it to outdoor conditions before transplanting it into the garden.

By using these propagation methods, you can create new violet plants for your garden or share them with friends and family.

Viola rostrata (Long Spurred Violet)
Viola sempervirens (Evergreen Violet)
Viola tricolor (Johnny Jump up)

Pests and Diseases

Violets can be affected by a variety of pests and diseases. Proper care and regular monitoring can help prevent or minimize these issues. Here are some common pests and diseases that affect violets:

Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects can be found on the underside of leaves and stems, sucking sap from plants. Aphids can cause leaf distortion and transmit plant viruses. Control them by spraying with insecticidal soap, neem oil or introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs.

Slugs and Snails: Slugs and snails feed on the leaves and flowers of violets, leaving irregular holes and slimy trails. Handpick them at night or use natural deterrents like diatomaceous earth, crushed eggshells, or copper barriers around the plants.

Spider mites: These tiny pests can cause stippling on leaves and leave fine webbing. They thrive in hot, dry conditions. Keep the plants well-watered and spray with water or insecticidal soap to dislodge and control spider mites.

Powdery mildew: This fungal disease appears as white, powdery spots on leaves, which can turn yellow and wither. Improve air circulation, avoid overhead watering, and apply a fungicide or homemade baking soda spray to control powdery mildew.

Leaf spot: Fungal or bacterial leaf spot diseases can cause yellow, brown, or black spots on the leaves, which may eventually fall off. Remove infected leaves, avoid overhead watering, and apply a fungicide or copper-based spray for bacterial leaf spot.

Crown and root rot: Overwatering or poorly-draining soil can lead to crown and root rot, caused by various fungi. Affected plants may wilt, have discolored leaves, or exhibit stunted growth. Ensure proper drainage, avoid overwatering, and remove affected plants to prevent the spread of the disease.

Botrytis blight (gray mold): This fungal disease can cause gray, fuzzy mold on leaves, stems, and flowers. It thrives in cool, damp conditions. Improve air circulation, avoid overhead watering, and remove affected plant parts to control the disease.

Maintaining a healthy growing environment and practicing good cultural practices, such as proper watering, spacing, and sanitation, can help prevent or minimize pests and diseases in your violet plants. Regularly inspect your violets and promptly address any issues that arise to keep your plants healthy and thriving.

Compare all Violet varieties

Frequently Asked Questions

What do violets symbolize?

Violets have been associated with various symbolic meanings throughout history. In general, they symbolize modesty, humility, and spiritual wisdom. In ancient Greece, violets were associated with love and fertility. In the Victorian language of flowers, violets represented faithfulness and devotion.

Are violets blue or violet?

The term “violet” can be somewhat misleading, as not all violets are violet in color. Violets come in a range of colors, including blue, purple, white, and even yellow. The most common wild violet, Viola sororia, is typically a shade of blue-purple, which is often referred to as violet.

Do violets like sun or shade?

Most violet species prefer partial shade, as they naturally grow in woodland environments where they receive dappled sunlight. However, some species can tolerate full sun, especially in cooler climates or when provided with sufficient moisture. It’s essential to research the specific light requirements of the violet species you are growing.

What is special about violets?

  • They are one of the earliest spring-blooming flowers, providing color when many other plants are still dormant.
  • Many violet species are fragrant, adding a pleasant scent to the garden.
  • Violets are excellent ground cover plants, effectively suppressing weeds and filling in gaps in the garden.
  • They attract pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, which are essential for a healthy ecosystem.
  • Violets are often used for culinary purposes, with their edible flowers and leaves used in salads, desserts, and as garnishes.
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While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Plant Type Annuals, Perennials
Genus Viola
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun, Shade
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Fragrant, Showy
Attracts Bees, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Ground Covers, Edging, Beds And Borders, Ponds And Streams, Underplanting Roses And Shrubs
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Coastal Garden, Gravel and Rock Garden, Informal and Cottage
Compare All Viola (Violet)
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Viola (Violet)

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