We Love Violas For Their Winter Colour

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed and Fact Checked by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 17th Febuary 2023.

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Here’s an interesting fact; pansies and violas are very similar but there’s an easy way you can tell the difference:

Pansies have 4 petals facing up and 1 down.

Violas have 2 facing up and 3 down.

There are a few other differences but both are popular cool-season plants that will put on a good show in the winter and even into spring.

Key details:

  • Violas are perennials but are usually grown as annuals.
  • I use them in my winter hanging baskets, pots and as bedding.
  • Cheap and often on discount in garden centres and via online retailers.
  • They love part shade and dappled sunlight.
  • Pollinator-friendly.

Size

Height: Up to 20cm (8in)

Spread: Up to 20cm (8in) 

Location

Baskets, pots, containers, bedding

Sunlight

Ideally in dappled sunlight or part-shade. Will only thrive in full sun if some protection from summer heat is provided

Hardiness

Hardy perennial US zone 6-8 and all parts of the UK

Water & Feed

No special watering or fertiliser requirements but they dislike dry soil

Companions

Pansies, daffodils, hellebores, crocus, and other early-season bloomers

Planting

May for summer flowers and up to October for a winter show

Flowering

A long flowering season with blooms possible from late April to early February

The Difference Between Violas and Pansies

Both pansies and violas are delightful plants that I grow for their cool-season hardiness.

There are a few differences worth noting:

Pansies have much larger flowers but fewer of them.

Violas always have more numerous blooms that are smaller.

While both plants look similar, on closer inspection, you’ll find that pansies have 4 petals facing upwards and 1 downwards, while violas have 2 facing up and 3 down.

I’ve found that Violas tend to cope better with the heat, while I use pansies as winter bedding plants, even though both perform well in the UK’s typically mild winters.

Both plants are perennials or biennials, but most gardeners I know, including myself, keep them for one season and then discard them.

10 Viola Questions Answered by an Expert

I asked qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith to answer 10 questions about violas:

How Do Violas Plants Arrive?

Seeds can be purchased for a sowing outside of the summer months, while plugs and jumbo plugs can be purchased in the spring or autumn.

I’ve found that violas don’t put on much growth in the cold winter months, so I always look for plants that are well established with lots of flowers or buds already present. From my experience, I know that weak plants rarely recover in the winter as they do in the summer.

Where is the best location for violas?

Violas dislike dry soil and prefer moist ground conditions where there’s dappled or part shade.

They will survive in full shade, but from what I’ve seen over the years, they may not grow to their full size.

I’ve seen violas perform very well in full sun, but dry soil conditions can kill them off, so they will need to be watered, which is something many of us forget to do in the winter when we spend less time in our gardens.

I usually grow violas in pots, troughs and hanging baskets but rarely in the ground.

Are violas winter hardy?

Violas are hardy to US zones 6-8 and all parts of the UK. I usually add them to my winter baskets, and assuming I remember to keep them watered, they usually hold onto their blooms into winter and early spring.

How much sunlight do violas need?

The more the better in winter, but not too much in the summer as it dries out the soil. I’ve seen them struggle in pots I have during the winter, but parts of my garden are very shaded.

What soil conditions are best for violas?

Violas are woodland plants, so they prefer soil rich in organic matter.

I’ve used leafmould, mushroom compost and multi-purpose compost to feed them, without issue.

How and when should violas be planted?

Viola seeds should be sown on top of fine compost in spring or autumn undercover. Plant out in spring or for winter cover, acclimatise and plant out before the first frosts.

Plugs of any size are suitable for spring planting, while from experience, I know that the larger jumbo-type plugs are best for winter. This is because violas won’t grow much in the colder months, but they can hold onto their existing blooms for quite a long time.

Mycorzial fungi can be used to help with root development but is optional.

Are violas prone to pests and diseases?

There are several notable pests and diseases, but if the violas are grown as annuals, some shouldn’t be of concern:

Slugs and snails will devour the stems and leaves quickly if left unchecked, something I have experience of. I’ve had success killing off these pests naturally with nematodes.

Aphids can be a problem, if you can’t encourage natural predators to the garden, try pinching off the aphids before they spread too far.

Leaf spot – this results in brown spots on the violas and is spread by overhead watering. I always try to water all my pants from the side rather than the top; it’s good practice and prevents the spread of diseases.

Black root rot also affects violas that are grown in shaded, damp areas – often in winter. Look for purple strands and remove the entire plant and dispose of, rather than compost.

When do violas bloom and how long for?

Violas are long bloomers, and I’ve seen them flower through for to ten months of the year. They may not bloom in February, March and early April, depending on the weather conditions.

Do violas require lots of water and fertiliser?

Violas don’t need a ton of water or fertiliser but they do prefer soil that’s moist and rich with organic material – an environment that mimics their natural woodland habitat. I’ve previously used leafmould, general compost and a small handful of slow-release fertiliser, and that’s usually enough.

Are violas toxic or harmful?

Violas and pansies aren’t toxic and are edible. Hannah and I have recently started foraging and I’ve eaten violas with my salads and made them into a garnish.

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How to Care For Violas After Flowering

I and every gardener I know grows violas as annuals, and we discard them at the end of the year or season, but they can sometimes be grown as perennials.

Here are my tips, based on my past experience:

  • Deadhead old flowers where possible.
  • Grow in the ideal location, such as a spot with part shade or dappled sunlight.
  • Add plenty of organic matter to the soil.
  • Remove diseased leaves and flowers as soon as you see them.
  • Have a plan in place to deal with slugs and snails.
  • Don’t water overhead, as this spreads disease.

Viola Companion Plants

From various experiments that I’ve done over the years, I feel that these six spring-flowering plants go well with Violas:

A Quote From a Qualified Horticulturist

I asked Elizabeth Smith, a qualified horticulturist, to give us four viola growing tips:

1) Violas are often grown in winter hanging baskets but one should take care to make sure the soil or compost doesn’t dry out as the violas prefer moist soil; watch out for hanging baskets and pots in sheltered locations where they are protected from the rain.

2) Violas are best grown as annuals, and given how cheap they are to buy, there’s little point trying to propagate them, although this is possible – via cuttings or division.

3) Watch out for brown spots, a disease easily spread due to overhead watering, if possible, water from the side rather than above.

4) If you want your winter and spring plants to pack more of a punch, grow pansies instead; their flowers are bigger.

Elizabeth Smith – qualified horticulturist

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.

Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.

Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.

More About Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

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