Violets: All You Need to Know

Translated by Nick R

Violets are beautiful, colorful, and showy plants that are very common and easy to grow. These plants have a wide diversity of species, most of which can be found in the northern hemisphere.

They are known as heralds of spring and are ideal for creating parterres, embroideries and compositions, or for growing in containers. In this blog, I’ll talk about these stunning plants, their location, care, and how to plant them, as well as show you some of the most common species.

Characteristics of violets 

These plant species are very versatile and easy to grow. Violets’ huge species varieties are capable of adapting to different environmental conditions, which makes them perfect to be indoors or outdoors.

In addition, these plants have characteristics that will encourage you to plant some in your garden.

Violets 
AspectThey are plants with a delicate appearance that conveys a romantic feeling. They have been a source of inspiration for several artists.  
VarietiesTheir various species have been obtained by means of hybridizations. In this way, colorful and perfumed flowers are achieved, as well as larger and extravagant.
GenusThey belong to the genus Viola and are found in temperate zones or altitudes with cold weather. They are also known as pansies.  
LocalizationThey can grow spontaneously in all parts of Europe and can develop without any problems in humid, cold, and mountainous areas.  
OriginSome species are native to Canada, Alaska, the Atlantic Californian coasts, the highlands of Mexico, the Andes, Asia, New Zealand, and Australia.  
FloweringSome violet species bloom in spring so they can be sown in July and August; others, flower in summer and you can sow them in September or March; and others bloom in winter and can be sown in April.
PlacingMost species like a shady location and do not stand high temperatures.
UsesYou can sow the violets in the garden to create parterres, embroideries or tapestries. Also in pots to decorate terraces or balconies.

Besides the above, violets have a couple of features that make them even more interesting to grow.

  • They are herbaceous perennial plants that can grow either annually or biennially. This is because their climatic and growing requirements can change.
  • Their creeping appearance allows them to form rosettes.
  • Their size in terms of height and diameter can vary and reach up to about half a meter.
  • Violets are rustic or semi-rustic, which makes them undemanding and easy to grow. And in case you buy them, this characteristic will make them affordable and diverse.

Specifications of violets 

Taken from Pinterest

These plants have a large number of species: herbaceous, perennial, rustic, and semi-rustic. Due to the climatic adaptations, they have undergone, they have developed diverse morphological characteristics.

Regarding their size, they can reach up to 20 cm (8 in.) high and 40-50 cm (15-15 in.) wide. It can also vary due to the various adaptations. Their roots can be fasciculated (no main root) or axonomorphic (roots that sink vertically into the soil), with rhizomes or stolons.

Violets have the appearance of creeping plants, (plants with stems that develop very close to the ground); cespitose plants (grows in the form of grass); or shrubby plants.

Tomada del libro Las violetas y las prímulas – Cultivo y cuidados

The leaves of these plants have various shapes, even within the same species, and can be cordate (heart-shaped), ovate (egg-shaped), sagittate (arrow-shaped), peltate (rounded), pinnate (feather-shaped), among other shapes.

The violets flower forms a calyx (external cover) of 5 sepals (transformed leaf) and a corolla or crown of 5 uneven petals. Its size can vary from 1 to 10 cm (3 to 4 in.) and the corollas are monochromatic, either with or without shades or with lower petals of a different color.

Species 

There are 2 types of violets. The first are the wild ones, divided into wild cultivated and those grown strictly in the wild. The first ones grow spontaneously in nature and do not adapt well to cultivation because, unlike the second, these have several requirements.    

Their flowering may vary according to the temperature, altitude, and latitude of the area in which they grow. For example, in low areas, they may flower early if the spring is mild, but at higher altitudes, flowering is delayed.

Wild species 

Some of the wild cultivated species are:

Viola biflora

Tt’s 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 in.) tall, and its flowers are yellow and bloom from April to May.

Taken from Pinterest
Viola cornuta

It has 3 – 4 cm wide flowers, it’s scented and blue, violet or yellow in color; they can be combined. They bloom from May to September in temperate conditions.

Taken from Pinterest
Viola odorata

Its flowers and leaves have an intense aroma, they are found in forests in cool and shady areas. They bloom from January to April.

Taken from Pinterest

Horticultural violets 

The horticultural violets are known as pansies, used for embroidery and miniature. They are perennial or biennial plants characterized by their beauty, color variety, versatility, and ease of cultivation.

These rustic plants can bloom depending on their variety and climatic conditions, from September to early summer. This group comprises several species due to the number of hybrids that have been created, below, I’ll mention some of them:

  • Pansies: the subspecies called pansies are Viola tricolor hortensis and Viola X wittrockiana. They are obtained by hybridization and are annual or biennial, cespitous, and large plants.

Their flowers have a creeping appearance and are abundant and resistant to rain. They can have from 1 to 3 different shades of color, and their center has a different color. In this group, there are too many varieties, one of them is Rippling waters.

Taken from Las violetas y las prímulas – Cultivo y cuidados – Rippling waters
Embroidery violets

These are plants that can bloom from April to September. They are hardy and perennial. This group includes the hybrids Viola X Williamsii and Viola X visseriana.

Taken from Pinterest – Viola X williamsii
Miniature violets

These are the product of hybridizations and their corollas are more oval and elongated than those of pansies, very small in size as well. One variety of this group is the Viola milkmaid with white flowers and a soft pink hue.

Taken from Pinterest – Viola milkmaid

Where to place violets? 

As I mentioned earlier, these plants are perfect for decorating the exterior of your home, in compositions, or for the interior in pots. Because of their wide variety of species, it’s possible to achieve flowering all year round, except for the summer, which is the period of rest.

This allows your garden to keep its colors and appearance intact and always beautiful. In addition, because of their versatility, you have the option of growing them in different areas, depending on where you live.

Below, I’ll explain how you can create compositions in the garden and what is important for planting your violets and primroses in pots.

Violets in the garden 

Flowerbeds and embroideries 

For the parterres (a garden with flowers, lawns, and paths) and embroideries (sections placed to define the garden boundaries) to look homogeneous, I suggest choosing varieties that bloom in the same season and placing them next to each other. In this way, you’ll be able to create compositions at least 30 cm (12 in.) long, thus avoiding the plants getting overlapped.

You can also create colorful spots to bring life to your garden. It’s best to plant the violets harmoniously so that they can contrast and stand out in your garden. You can achieve this by pre-planning your garden layout.

In our blog on shrubs, hedges, and compositions you’ll find the necessary information to consider when structuring your garden using embroidery, colored patches, hedges, and other elements.

Finally, you can complement your parterres, for example, with stone pathways, gravel, white marble sand, or decorative elements such as wheelbarrows, flowerpots, or antiques.

Combinations with other plants 

Violets can be combined with other plants to achieve chromatic harmony. One option is tulips because, besides their colors, they have different stem sizes to give proportion to the flowerbeds.

You can combine violets with tall-stemmed tulips. Ideally, place the shorter plants in the front and the taller ones in the back. You also have the option of selecting varieties of plants that have similar shades to create a chromatic effect.

If the parterre is going to be placed at a close distance for viewing, you may use soft colors or pastels, but if it will be at a great distance, the best is to use vivrant, striking colors.    

The color of the soil, the lawn, and the decorations will also add a particular accent to the composition, so keep this aspect in mind to prevent altering the garden appearance.    

example of combinations of violets and tulips

Taken from the book Violets and Primroses – Cultivation and care.

Rockery 

This is a type of garden made with rocks, and as I mentioned in the characteristics of these plants, violets can adapt to any area. For this reason, they are also a fit choice for these gardens.

You can plant the following species: Viola comuta, Viola biflora, and the dwarf violet varieties. Keep in mind that in order to create a rock garden, some conditions should be fulfilled: the rocks need to be properly oriented, there should be little direct exposure to the sun and an irrigation system must be installed.

You can fill in the gaps between the rocks with a mixture of peat and sand so that moisture can be stored and retained. You can also use other plant species such as dwarf lavender, heather thyme, or azaleas to complement the composition.

Violets in pots

Violets can be grown in pots and these pots can be used to decorate balconies, terraces or the interior of the house. The main thing to keep in mind is choosing a suitable container so that the plant’s growth is not affected.

In our blog about outdoor plants, we talk about those pots that adapt perfectly to outdoor environments. Keep in mind that, although balconies and terraces are not gardens, they are still part of the exterior of the house.

Therefore, it’s essential that you use pots that can withstand outdoor conditions. One option is terracotta pots that you can also decorate as you wish. You can also use pots made of recycled materials or slightly damaged ones, which can be put inside a wicker basket.

You also have the option of using hanging plants, such as the marbled ivy, to create a polychromatic composition. You can use clay pots and add even more species such as meadow daisies, ranunculus, hyacinths or saffron flowers.

Cultivation of violets 

The cultivated wild violets can be reproduced by seeds or cuttings.

Cultívated wild violetsHorticultural violets
Seeds
When sowing the seeds remember that this is one of the slowest methods for plant development and that they won’t have the characteristics of the parent plant. It’s necessary to keep the seeds of the same species separated from others so that they don’t pollinate and change their characteristics.  
You can sow the seeds in a drawer, sheltered during the winter, in July or August (for wild violets); winter flowering species from April to May (for horticultural violets), and in mid-August for pansies (horticultural violets).
Step 1 For the seeds of cultivated wild violets you can use fine sand that favors the distribution of these and mix it with loose garden soil. Compact the soil very well and water the surface with a sprayer.Step 1 For the seeds of horticultural violets, place them in a humid and shady place. The seedlings will be transplanted in October to their final location.
Step 2 In the spring you can weed and transplant the seedlings. They will have grown about 2 cm and will have a distance of 10 cm from each other. In the following spring, you can transplant to the permanent place. After one and a half or two years, flowering will take place.Step 2 In case the area where you live has a cold climate, you’ll need to transplant to a pot during the winter. The final transplant will be done in March or April.     
Cuttings
Reproduction by cuttings is one of the fastest methods to propagate plants. Moreover, thanks to this method you can be sure that they will have the characteristics of the parent plant.
Step 1 Reproduction by cuttings of cultivated wild violets should be done in late June and early July. For this, cut the apical end (tip) of the new shoots from the caespitose plants.Step 1 Reproduction by cuttings of horticultural violets is performed in July. You’re going to take the basal shoots (from the base of the plant) about 2 to 5 cm long and without flowers. You can use the same substrate as the cultivated wild violets to encourage the appearance of roots.
Step 2 Cuttings of about 6 or 7 cm (2 or 3 inches) long should be planted in boxes to maintain high humidity. These should be placed in warm, bright spaces without direct sun exposure. This keeps the cuttings from dehydrating.Step 2 Place the cuttings in boxes in the shade. Once they have roots, transplant them into pots of 8 cm in diameter, and plant the cuttings in September in their permanent location.  
Step 3 Use a substrate that favors the appearance of roots with a mixture of peat and moist sand without excess water. After 3 months, at the end of September or beginning of October, plant the cuttings in a pot 6 or 7 cm (2 or 3 inches) wide and then transplant them to their final location the following spring.   

Care of violets 

Soil 

The cultivated wild violets are characterized by being hardy, rustic, and easy to grow because when they get used to the garden soil, they don’t need any special care.

They like fertile, cool, drained and slightly acid soils with a pH of 6 to 6.5. Depending on the variety, some species can tolerate small amounts of limestone (lime); others can grow in sandy or nutrient-poor soils; and others prefer moist, peaty, poorly drained soils.

However, in general terms, you can use a mix of 3 parts garden soil, 2 parts mature mulch, 1 part slightly decomposed beech leaves (deciduous tree species), and 1 part of silica sand or pumice stone to prepare the ideal substrate.  

For horticultural violets, you can use fertile, well-drained soil. You may use river sand or expanded clay to improve drainage. A proper substrate, in general terms, can consist of 2 parts garden soil, 2 parts mature mulch, 1 part of beech leaves, and 1 part of coarse sand or expanded clay.

For pansies, you can use moist substrates rich in humus as they are very sensitive to dryness.

Light and watering 

Wild cultivated violets can grow well if you recreate the species’ natural habitat, including both soil and sun exposure.

Those violets that originate in the undergrowth, i.e., grow under trees, prefer semi-shade. Species originating from cold regions like sunlight, however, shouldn’t be too intense.

Species such as the African violet, which has a double flower, tend to be more sensitive to cold, so they require protection during the winter. Ideally, these species are best placed in the warm corners of the garden.

When winter or a frost season arrives, you should protect the plants with a plastic tunnel (A) or a glass bell (B), you can also protect them at night.

Taken from the book Las violetas y las prímulas – Cultivo y cuidados

During the summer and during the hours of intense sunshine, you should place your violets in a shady and airy area. They don’t require excessive watering as it may cause the appearance of fungus. It will be enough to keep the substrate moist and without puddles.

For horticultural violets cool temperatures are recommended, allowing them to keep their flowers for longer. If you live in a temperate zone, you can plant in semi-shaded areas.

Varieties such as pansies are very sensitive to very dry climates and heavy rains because they can damage their flowers. You can place them in semi-shaded places and protected from external factors.

Dwarf and creeping species can adapt to humid climates and are able to withstand high temperatures, they are used in rockeries. Elongated species for embroideries and parterres like shady areas.

When to plant 

As I mentioned earlier, cultivated wild violets are to be transplanted in autumn or spring. Once the substrate is prepared, dig a hole a little deeper than the root ball (the mass of soil attached to the roots).

Be careful not to damage the roots, do it with patience, and don’t sink in too deep. Once the plant is in the hole, fill it with the substrate in such a way that it gets compact and without air bubbles.

Keep the soil constantly moist without puddling so that the plant can adhere to the soil. The rest of the species should be planted 25 to 30 cm from each other, or 30 to 40 cm if they are creeping plants.   

During the first months of planting, it’s essential to control and eliminate any weeds that start to grow around the violets. Thanks to this process, the plants will be able to spread out, and you’ll prevent the appearance of weeds on their own.

Horticultural violets are planted in September or October so that they can strengthen their roots before winter. You’re going to make a hole 15-20 cm deep, place the plant there and add, apart from the substrate, compost, which can be very ripe manure.

The distance between species can be 25 to 30 cm; the smaller the distance, the greater the ground cover effect that helps prevent the appearance of weeds.

Fertilizing and pruning 

Once the cultivated and horticultural violets are planted, they’ll need little attention. You can simply remove wilted flowers, dry leaves and weeds, and water them to keep the soil moist.

In autumn, you can fertilize them with overripe manure to give them a greener and flowery appearance. If they are in pots, you should fertilize them with liquid fertilizers before flowering.

These fertilizers have a label with instructions so that you can apply them properly and in the appropiate doses.

Pests 

Violets can be affected by pests such as aphids, spider mites and larvae. Avoid waterlogging, excessive humidity in the air and poorly balanced fertilizers, especially with excess nitrogen. You can combat them with specific insecticides or pesticides.

They can also suffer from fungal diseases such as leaf spots, yellowing, wilting, rust or blisters on the leaves and whitish spots. You can eliminate them with fungicides and by removing the affected parts so that they don’t contaminate the rest of the plant.

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We’ve come to the end of this exciting blog about violets. As you could notice, there are endless wonderful varieties of these species that you can use to create compositions in the garden or decorate the interior of your home.

Moreover, they don’t require closely strict care and have the advantage that they can be easily grown. So there’s no excuse for starting to grow these stunning plants. Don’t stay looking forward to it; get to work and invite your friends or family to share with you the wonderful experience of gardening.

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