Southern Gardening: Plant Hardy Violas for Months of Garden Color | Lifestyles

Now is the time to plant one of the great classic cool season annuals. Although delicate in appearance, violas are hardy plants that will perform well throughout the fall, winter, and spring seasons of the landscape and garden.

Violas go by one of the botanical names Viola tricolor or Viola cornuta, but most gardeners I know call them by their common name, Johnny jump ups. Like their pansy cousins, violas are hardy and tolerate cold and winter.

As a kid growing up in Michigan, I remember violas — I called them pansies back then — popping up in our lawn and flower beds seemingly at random. This is perhaps where I developed my fascination with letting various plants appear as volunteers in my landscape today.

Botanically, most of the Johnny jump ups we plant are Viola tricolor, which makes sense, as many of the selections available have multicolored sets of petals.

They make excellent choices for the landscape and containers. Violas will grow through Thanksgiving and still shine in the garden through Easter and beyond. I have seen several times where these plants can be even tougher than pansies.

Johnny jump ups are actually some of the easiest cool season flowers to grow this year and for years to come. Wilting dead flowers encourages the production of more flowers, but I like to let them go to seed. They have prolific seed production, and when the wind blows the seeds are distributed across my landscape.

The following year, I enjoyed Johnny’s surprise jump ups in brand new places.

Violas grow best in consistently moist, well-drained soil. Amend the soil with good composted organic matter before planting. These plants prefer to grow in full sun.

For best performance now and next spring, plant violas before cold weather sets in. This allows the root system to establish itself. This means that if you want to grow violas this year, now is the time to plant.

If you are growing violas in northern Mississippi, apply a layer of mulch to help with overwintering.

Maintain soil nutrition at optimal levels to ensure your violas will continue to bloom throughout the growing seasons. I like to add a few teaspoons of slow release fertilizer to each planting hole to help keep nutrition at optimal levels.

Did you know that viola flowers are edible? For many years, high-end restaurants have used viola flowers to add color and interest to salads. It’s a trick the home gardener can use for special dinner parties.

But I offer a caveat. Knowing the source of your flowers is important, especially if the viola plants are from the nursery. With a little patience, the home gardener can grow violas from seed. The wait is certainly worth it.

At the moment there is quite a large selection of violas in garden centers, and the color palette seems to get bigger every year. Plant some of these cool season wonders and enjoy their blooming spectacle for months to come.

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