Violet (Viola) Flowers: Types, How to Grow and Plant Care

Violets are some of the most cheerful little flowers you can give to someone, but they are also incredibly satisfying and uplifting to have them in your own garden. 

They’re really easy plants to grow, which is why so many people use them as bedding plants, to fill out containers and gaps in their garden planting schemes.

While you might assume that violet flowers only come in cool tones of lavender, purple, and violet, there’s a lot more to these joyful little flowers than you might think at first glance.

Here’s everything you need to know.

At a Glance: What You Should Know About Violets

Violets go by many names. You’ll see them labeled as violas, sweet violets, pansies (which also refers to a flower similar in appearance which is closely related to the violet, confusingly), garden pansies, and johnny-jump-ups.

Violets come from the Violaceae plant family, all of which make up the Viola genus, which is the largest genus within this particular plant family. 

You can recognize a violet by their delicate flowers, which bear five petals each, on petite stems, with soft, rounded leaves in a vibrant green, or a deep green with a hint of purple.

Some varieties can have more feathery foliage, which is more prominent in the newer cultivars.

The blooms themselves come in blue or purple. In newer varieties, you’ll also see pink, white, yellow, orange, and red, in about as many shades as you can imagine. There’s usually one flower per stalk.

They are also often bicolored, a different color appearing in the throat of the flower.

These small beauties are grown across the world for their small stature and fantastic colors. Some varieties are even fragranced, like Viola odorata, or the sweet violet. 

These gorgeous blooms are also edible. Some people incorporate them into salads or desserts, whether that’s as a candied treat, or as they are.

What’s the Difference Between True Violets and African Violets?

The name violet can be used interchangeably for both true violets and African violets, but they are not the same thing. 

African violets (see also African Violets Toxicity), or the Cape primroses, are part of the Gesneriaceae plant family, under the Streptocarpus plant genus, which they are sometimes called. These flowers are usually grown as houseplants rather than ornamental garden plants.

Cape primroses feature leathery, rich green leaves, which are oval. The flowers produced don’t sit much taller than the leaves, featuring five petals in a solid color or combination of two colors, with a distinct ‘eye’ in the center of each flower, which is not just a different color on the petals.

Streptocarpus flowers appear for an all-summer-long display, while violets tend to bloom during late winter into spring, but this is also dictated by when you sow the seeds. 

What You Need to Know to Get the Best Out of Violets

Violets are extremely easy to grow, making them the perfect plants for beginners, or for those who want a huge display of color without having to go to a lot of effort to get it.

Here’s what you need to know.

How to Grow Violets from Seed

By far the cheapest method of growing violets is to start from scratch, and grow them from seed. Violets are one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed, which makes them perfect if you’ve never grown anything from seed before.

One thing you do have to note though is that some types of violet seeds require a spell of cold weather in order to signal the seed it’s time to grow. The sweet violet, or Viola odorata, is just one of these.

Those which require this can be sown outside in fall, in a container which is unsheltered. Use a seed potting mix, following the instructions on the specific seed packet for best results.

Otherwise, you can start growing them from seed either on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse from spring. You’ll need to keep the soil moist, and somewhere that gets a stable temperature of at least 65°F (or 18°C).

Whichever method you choose, you should see signs of life about two weeks after you plant the seeds. If you’re growing them indoors to start with, when you transfer them outdoors they may need a period of hardening off.

This is when you gradually introduce young plants into their new home, leaving them out for a couple of hours each day, before moving them back into their original position. 

Each day, leave them out for half an hour to an hour longer than the last, and within a week or two, they will be strong enough to stand outside weather.

Planting Out Violets

Violets are very hardy plants, so as long as they are big enough, you can plant them out whenever you like, as long as the soil isn’t too soggy, and the weather isn’t too fierce.

If the soil is very dry, you’ll want to water your violets regularly to help encourage the roots to settle into the soil. Plant violets 15cm away from each other, to give them plenty of space and airflow.

Sunlight and Position

Violets will be happy in either a very sunny, warm position, or partial shade. Make sure the soil drains well, and it’s as fertile as possible, and you’ll see exactly what these little plants are capable of.

For best results, leave violets somewhere where they will get between two and six hours of direct sunlight. Any more than this, and the leaves or flowers may scorch, or both. 

You may also notice that the flowers are shorter-lived than others planted in partial shade.

In terms of temperature, violets don’t need a hugely sheltered position, as they can tolerate a lot of cold. You want to avoid anywhere that gets lower than 40°F (4°C), or higher than 70°F (21°C).

When to Water Violets

Violets do like a good drink, and you should avoid underwatering them where possible. That doesn’t mean that you should completely saturate the soil, however, as they won’t tolerate that either.

When the first couple of inches of the soil feels dry, this is the time to water your violets. Allow the soil to dry out between watering, as this will help stop water pooling at the roots for too long and drowning the plants.

Should you Deadhead Violets?

Deadheading fading flower heads is a good idea for most flowers, but especially for violets. This helps encourage the plants to put their energy into producing more flowers, instead of any seed heads. 

How to Get Violets to Rebloom

If you provide violets with afternoon shade, they are more likely to rebloom. If the temperature climbs above 80°F (26°C), these plants do benefit from a good watering in the early morning.

 They will also benefit from a couple of inches of mulch sitting on the topsoil, as this will help retain the soil moisture, and keep the roots cool.

Make sure to deadhead any fading blooms.

If you’re growing perennial violets, and you notice that after a year or so, they don’t flower as well, you can divide them to help reinvigorate the plants in either fall or spring. 

You can also take cuttings in summer to give you more violets.

Should You Feed Violets?

Violets benefit from regular feeds during their growing season. You can use an organic, slow-release fertilizer when you pot them up or put them in the ground, or you can use a fertilizer that’s formulated for flower production, feeding them every few weeks when you water.

Make sure you don’t overdo it, however. Overfeeding your plants can create many problems, the least of which is encouraging the plants to grow leaves instead of flowers.

Can You Grow Violets Indoors?

Not really, no. Violets like colder weather more than hot weather, a bright position, and moist soil at the best of times, so you’ll have a hard time getting them to flourish inside.

If you want to grow flowering plants indoors, the Cape primrose, or streptocarpus, is ideal for indoor growing. This plant looks very similar to the violet, and is grown as a houseplant all over the world.

How to Use Violets in Your Own Garden

For such small plants, violets add a ton of color and cheer into any type of garden, whether you have a huge outside space with beds full of gorgeous plants, or a sea of color in a container garden, or a minute balcony filled with plants to play with.

These plants are happy as part of rockeries, bedding plants, hanging baskets, containers, or even as part of a raised bed. 

The small stature and vivid colors of the violet ensures a prominent place in any garden. The shape and size of the flowers do well against much bigger and more elaborate flowers, to offset and bring the best out of both.

When grown in early spring, they provide a lot of precious nectar for pollinators, helping the wildlife in your garden, even just a little.

As long as the soil drains well, the weather doesn’t get too hot, and they are in a bright position, these tough little beauties will thrive.

Common Problems to Watch Out For When Growing Violets

Violets are robust plants, despite their small size, and don’t have a lot of problems. 

Issues tend to appear when violets aren’t given enough space, which is where fungal diseases take hold of the plant, such as powdery mildew, pansy leaf spot, and gray mold.

If you give your violets enough sunlight and spacing for a good amount of airflow, this will help prevent any fungal diseases from starting. 

When it comes to pests, violets can be affected by slugs and snails, aphids, and spider mites. Keeping a wide variety of different plants and flowers to boost the different insects in your garden will help attract predators, keeping pest levels down.

Violet Varieties to Try Growing At Least Once

Viola odorata ‘Sweet Violet’

The sweet violet is highly fragrant, carrying a sweet scent that’s sure to make this particular violet a favorite near patios and windowsills.

Hailing from Europe, these lovely plants are spring bloomers, and will get to a maximum height of 10cm tall, making them perfect for the front of borders or rockeries. 

You can recognize them by their heart-shaped foliage, which is covered in hair, and the blooms that are purple, lilac, or blue. They are perfect for attracting butterflies into your garden during early spring.

Viola riviniana ‘Dog Violet’

The dog violet, or Viola riviniana, is very difficult to tell apart from the sweet violet, Viola odorata. Both species look the same, but you can tell with your nose! The sweet violet has a fragrance, but the dog violet does not.

It is worth mentioning that once you smell a sweet violet, you won’t be able to smell anything else for a little while, as they contain beta-ionone, which stops you from being able to smell for a very short period.

Viola tricolor ‘Wild Pansy’

Also known as heart’s ease, or the Johnny jump-up, the wild pansy is probably the most popular type of viola there is. You can get them as perennials, annuals, or even biennials.

The flowers feature three different colors in each flower head, usually in purple, yellow, cream, or lilac. 

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