BY BOB SOUVESTRE
October 29, 2012
Violas are now competing with their pansy cousins as superstars of the cool season garden.
Always easy to grow, newer viola varieties offer larger flower size, along with excellent heat resistance and cold tolerance, for exceptional garden performance. The flower color palette is unsurpassed, offering beautiful pastels and sparkling jewel tones. Some flowers have two, even three colors.
Many have unique patterns and markings. The fresh green foliage provides a canvas that makes the abundant flowers shine.
Violas have gained popularity with gardeners in the Gulf South and are essential in the fall garden, providing continuous bloom through winter and spring, lasting until summer’s heat takes its toll. Their popularity will continue to grow as new varieties of violas, with even better garden performance, become available.
Many excellent hybrid violas are available mainly as bedding plants. Hybrid varieties offer exceptional garden performance, good flower production, and uniform growth. Violas come in more than 30 colors, including beautiful pastel and two-tone colors on compact plants reaching 6 to 8 inches tall. They have a mounding garden habit and flower continuously.
Sorbet violas are the best-flowering violas in LSU AgCenter trials which is why they were named a 2012 Louisiana Super Plant.
The vigorous plants produce small bright flowers that cover the plant from late fall through spring. Flowering is so prolific it can obscure the foliage, and the smaller flowers hold up to rainy winter weather much better than pansies. Sorbet violas are more uniform and compact than other types of violas. They are completely winter hardy in Louisiana and come in a multitude of bright colors. They are an outstanding choice for beds or containers.
Violas grow best in rich, moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Mix a slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time or occasionally fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. Water when the soil is dry to maintain even moisture.
Viola’s size, compact habit, and long flowering period are perfect for containers, hanging baskets and garden beds. Mounded plants make a lovely edging along a path or to define a garden border. Trailing varieties are exquisite in hanging baskets, filling crevices in rock walls and tumbling over the edge of containers and window boxes.
Sorbet violas can be mixed with other garden flowers for stunning combinations in garden beds or containers. They make a wonderful choice for planting with other cool-loving garden flowers such as Swan columbines, Amazon dianthus, Redbor kale and Camelot foxglove — all Louisiana Super Plants.
Viola flowers are beautiful in the garden and on the table. Not just for fresh bouquets, violas are very popular edible flowers. Culinary uses include jams and jellies, teas, garnishes and salads. Candied violas are easy to make and look stunning atop cakes, ice cream, cookies or other desserts.
In addition, viola flowers make wonderful dried or pressed flowers and their smaller size is ideal for a variety of craft uses.
For information about new flower and vegetable varieties, visit the National Garden Bureau (http://www.ngb.org) and the LSU AgCenter (http://www.lsuagcenter.com) websites.
Cool season time
This is prime season to plant cool season bedding plants for partial color this winter and a full-blown color display next spring.
By planting bedding plants now, the soil is still warm and plant roots will quickly establish and plants will increase in size. A large plant going into winter will produce many more flowers next spring than those planted after Thanksgiving and even early next year. Get your money’s worth by planting early.
Want to become a Master Gardener? Visit http://www.lsuagcenter.com and click Research Stations, then Burden Center and EBR Master Gardeners or contact Bob Souvestre, firstname.lastname@example.org or (225) 763-3990. Applications are being accepted for the East Baton Rouge Parish program at Burden.
What really sets Master Gardeners apart from other home gardeners is their special training in horticulture. In exchange for their training, those who become Master Gardeners contribute time as volunteers, working through their parish extension agent to provide horticulture-related information to their communities.
In the first year, Master Gardeners are required to complete the class and contribute 40 hours of volunteer service. In subsequent years, to remain a certified Master Gardener, a minimum of 20 hours of LSU AgCenter-sponsored volunteer service, including six hours of continuing education, is required.
The Louisiana Master Gardener training program provides a balanced, integrated, practical course in gardening. Special topics, based on Louisiana gardening needs, are part of the curriculum and involve a balance of lectures and hands-on activities. The training is conducted with instruction provided by the LSU AgCenter and horticulture experts.
To help you decide if you should apply to be a Master Gardener, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I want to learn more about the culture and maintenance of many types of plants?
- Am I eager to participate in a practical and intense training program?
- Do I look forward to sharing my knowledge with people in my community?
- Do I have enough time to attend training and to complete the volunteer service?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, the Master Gardener program could be for you.
Got a gardening question? Write to Bob Souvestre, horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter, at Burden Center, 4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or email to email@example.com, or call Master Gardeners at (225) 763-3990.