how to plant, grow & care for violas
- Written by:
- Sarah Raven
- Last updated:
complete growing guide
The fascinating markings on these pretty plants are reminiscent of smiling faces, brightening up pots and borders as well as decorating cakes and even the salad bowl. This makes violas highly collectable, and breeders keep adding more to the range making them almost addictive to plant lovers. Their love of cool conditions makes them ideal for shady gardens, and in the shelter of a town garden the larger flowered pansies can flower right through the winter. We stock viola seeds, seedlings and rooted cuttings ready to go out in spring and autumn.
- Common name Viola, violet, pansy
- Latin name Viola
- Type Perennial (sometimes grown as annuals)
- Height 20cm
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect part shade
- Planting position front of border, in containers.
- Suitable for pots Yes
- Good for pollinators Yes
- Good for cut flowers Yes
Flowering time will depend on the variety.
how to grow violas
where to grow violas
Soil type: Violas have a broad tolerance and can be planted in most soil types.
Aspect & position: Plant your violas at the front of the border or in containers.
when to plant violas
Sow viola seed undercover in the spring in March and April or in the autumn in September and October. Plant out seedlings in the spring. If growing winter-flowering varieties, these can be planted out in the winter months.
how to plant violas
sowing viola seeds
Viola seed is very fine and needs to be sown on the surface of fine damp compost. Cover with a thin layer of sieved compost or vermiculite. When the seedlings germinate and have two true leaves prick them out into modules or small pots and grow in cool light conditions until large enough to plant out.
planting viola seedlings
Seedlings should be planted 20cm apart in containers of peat free compost with a little grit added, or at the front of the flower border in soil that has been improved with home-made compost. Sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi in the planting hole to improve establishment and water well. Violas will grow in part shade to full sun but need more shade in the hotter months.
how to care for violas
Violas do not need a huge amount of water, particularly if you are growing them in partial shade.
Violas are fairly easy to look after. They will flower longer if you deadhead the spent flowers and occasionally give a liquid feed of seaweed to give them a boost. You can even shear them off completely to about 5cm in mid-summer and after a good feed they will return to flower in a month or so.
They can be propagated from seed, or some varieties such as Viola cornuta work well from cuttings taken early in the year before they come into flower or at the end of the flowering season. Viola labarodorica, odorata and riviniana are easy to divide and sections can be transplanted to other shady areas of the garden where they make excellent ground cover.
Most varieties are totally hardy and perennial, but the modern pansy hybrids such as Viola x wittrockiana have been bred for their large and colourful flowers rather than their longevity, so are best treated as annuals.
- Sow seed under cover.
- Plant out seedlings.
- Deadhead spent flowers
- Liquid feed with seaweed.
- Sow seed or take cuttings.
- Plant out winter flowering varieties.
pests, diseases & common issues
aphids on violas
Unfortunately, there are several types of aphids that will feed on violas, so vigilance is key. Make sure to squash them before the numbers grow too big. If the beneficial insects don’t come to your rescue then use a spray such as SB Plant Invigorator that controls pests and stimulates plant growth.
slugs and snails
Slugs and snails will feast on the fresh young viola leaves, so try to catch them in the act or lay a trap in the form of a saucer of old beer. We also have some products that are worth trying including nematodes for when the weather warms up, a foliar spray and a seaweed meal to sprinkle on the ground.
viola black root rot
If your plants go yellow and stunted this might be caused by a fungus that attacks the roots, leaving a network of dark purple strands. Destroy any plants with affected roots and improve soil drainage before replanting.
viola leaf spot
There are a number of fungi that attack the leaves of violas, leaving brown or black spots on the surface which will spread to neighbouring plants unless removed. Ensure you do not buy plants with these symptoms, increase air circulation, and try not to get wet the leaves when watering.
pansy downy mildew
This particularly affects the winter flowering pansies that are growing in cool damp conditions. Pale blotches appear on the underside of the leaves and spread to the flowers if not removed promptly. Check new plants for symptoms before planting and if the problem arises do not plant in the same soil in subsequent years.
why are my violas drooping?
Usually, plants wilt because they are too dry or too wet, so ensure you have the watering regime right. Some fungal diseases can also cause wilting, so ensure good hygiene and air circulation.
why are my viola leaves turning yellow?
This could be caused by viola black root rot, commonly called “Pansy sickness” (see above). Dig up one of the plants and look for the fungal strands on the roots. If there is no sign of rot, it might be more to do with poor nutrition so give a feed of liquid seaweed and see if the leaves green up.
frequently asked questions
do violas like sun or shade?
As woodland plants, violas are shade tolerant, which means that they are happy growing in partial shade. However, most do not like total shade. They can also grow in sun as long as they do not get too hot.
do violas need a lot of water?
If grown in partial shade they will not need as much water as in full sun, but those planted in containers will certainly need more regular watering than those growing in the border (around once a week depending on rainfall).
do violas grow back every year?
Viola cornuta, originating in the Pyrenees, are true perennials and will come back every year. The same goes for viola labarodorica, (which originates from Greenland) and odorata and riviniana which are closest to the native wild violets of our woodlands. The modern hybrids are better treated as annuals and replanted each year.
how long do violas bloom?
This rather depends on the variety. The cornutas, if deadheaded regularly, will flower right through the spring until the summer really heats up. So, shear them back in July and give them a feed and they will come back into flower later on in the summer. The winter flowering violas and pansies can flower right through from autumn to spring, but this will depend on the severity of the winter.
are violas invasive?
Some of our native violets will spread and seed themselves about very readily, but they are easily controlled, particularly if you deadhead them before they set seed. As they are so low-growing they rarely swamp other plants, instead they provide valuable ground cover and repel other annual weeds.
what to grow with violas
Violas combine well with spring bulbs and foliage plants in containers. They make excellent ground cover planted under shrubs and trees. The edible varieties can also be grown with mixed salad leaves.