Tips for Growing Violets in Containers

Back when I was 19, I traveled through Europe for the first time. I remember being struck by the beauty of the houses in the Austrian countryside: mountains rising behind dark log-wood houses adorned with window boxes filled with violets.

A vertical close up picture of a large blue container with blooming violets in bright sunshine with foliage in soft focus in the background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

While I have yet to add window boxes to my house, I love all the ways you can adorn your home with flowers.

Growing violets in containers next to your front porch steps is one such way to please the eye of anyone walking by.

That’s what I love about growing flowers in containers: you can put them everywhere. On your front porch. Back deck. Along the sidewalks. At the start of your driveway. Around your garden.

A selection of decorative metal pots in a variety of colors containing blooming pansies, set on a wooden surface.

Even better, the containers keep the delicate blooms up off the ground. If you have kids and dogs running around the yard all the time like I do, this is a huge plus.

It’s easy to grow violets in containers from seed. In this article, I’ll show you how!

Here’s what I’ll cover:

A Bit About Violets

In the Viola genus, there are three main groups of flowers: violets, violas, and pansies.

For an explantation of the differences between the three – and a huge list of all the cultivars and varieties you can plant – check out our article where we discuss the different violet varieties.

A close up of a mixture of violets in various different colors growing in the garden, fading to soft focus in the background.

All three are part of the Violaceae family, and are showstoppers in their own right. Violets are usually wildflowers, pansies are mostly cultivated varieties, and violas can be both.

And they’re all a mix of annuals and perennials, so make sure you check before planting.

Why Grow in a Container?

Really, it’s all about preference. You can fill a flower bed with pansies and violas for a beautiful show of colors, from purple to orange to white and beyond.

But growing them in a container allows you to move them around as needed and place them in areas all around your house. And without worrying that they’ll get trampled.

A close up of two decorative pots with brightly colored violets in full bloom set on a wooden surface, fading to soft focus in the background.

Growing the flowers in pots also allows you to lengthen the growing season a little, since you can bring them indoors if it starts getting too cold or hot.

In addition, violas often need to be moved to a shady location when summertime temperatures rise above 70°F.

A vertical close up picture of a small pink flower, pictured on a dark soft focus background.
Photo by Laura Melchor.

They don’t appreciate a hot sun beaming down on them for more than four or five hours a day. Planting violets in containers allows you to cater to the pretty flowers’ needs without too much headache.

Choosing the Right Container

A container of just about any size is suitable for your violas, so long as it’s a minimum of four inches deep.

A vertical picture of a terra cotta pot containing pansies in full bloom, set on a gray surface, on a soft focus background.

The flowers like to have some elbow room, so planting one for every six to eight inches of container space is a good rule of thumb.

Alternatively, plant one on its own in a small, four-inch pot.

A close up of 'Lilac Ice' pansy cultivar, with beautiful purple blooms and a small yellow eye on a soft focus background.

‘Lilac Ice’

This spring, I’m growing ‘Lilac Ice,’ a V. cornuta cultivar that you can find at True Leaf Market.

One is planted by itself in a four-inch by four-inch pot.

The other five are in a 24-inch window box, that’s four inches deep.

A close up of a rectangular plastic planter containing 'Lilac Ice' violas, light pink flowers, pictured on a soft focus background.
Photo by Laura Melchor.

I should only have transplanted four of my seedlings into it, but at the last minute my three-year-old plunked an extra seedling into the container and I couldn’t bring myself to remove it.

Who am I to quench his budding love for gardening?

Still, the recommendation stands: if you plant your violets every six to eight inches, they’ll enjoy plenty of space to mound and bloom.

A close up of a wooden container with small pansies in full bloom creating a carpet of bright color and foliage, on a soft focus background.

Violas like cooler temperatures of between 40 and 70°F, so if you live in a warm climate, using a light-colored container is a smart idea.

That way, the material won’t absorb the heat of the sun and cause the roots to overheat.

A close up of a container of brightly colored pink and blue pansies, set on a stone surface in bright sunshine.

You can use anything from clay to plastic. Just make sure that the pot you choose has drainage holes.

And if you are using a deeper pot, fill the bottom inch of your container with gravel or pebbles to allow the moisture to drain away from the roots.

Preparing Your Container

Violets thrive in an organically-rich, well-draining soil. To achieve this, fill your pots with either:

  • Potting mix amended with a balanced 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer, according to package instructions.
  • Garden soil amended with compost or well-rotted manure.

If you’re using garden soil, it’s prudent to check the pH level of the soil as violets prefer a slightly acidic pH of between 5.4-5.8.

How to Grow

Most violets thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9, but always check the seed packet to be sure of the variety you are planting.

These blooms love cool temperatures, so in cooler regions, sow seeds indoors eight to twelve weeks before your average last frost date.

You can either sow them in seedling trays, as I did, or directly into their permanent pots.

By the time early spring arrives, they’ll look something like this:

A close up of a young spring viola growing in a small plastic pot on a soft focus background.
Photo by Laura Melchor.

It won’t be long before buds begin to form, and blooms will open just as the world is turning green and fragrant with the scents of spring.

For those of you living in warmer climates, you can also direct sow violet seeds outdoors in containers in late fall, or as soon as temperatures consistently drop below 70°F. You’ll enjoy blooms well into the winter and early spring.

A close up of two small flowering violas in a plastic pot, with soil in soft focus in the background.
Photo by Laura Melchor.

Some violets will grace you with their perennial presence year after year, while others (mostly pansies) die after one year.

Ready to learn how to sow these beauties? Let’s get started.

Propagating Seeds

Violet seeds are tiny, delicate things. Mine came in a tissue paper packet inside a larger, resealable plastic baggie.

I decided to sow my seeds in seed trays, but you can also direct-sow your seeds into the container you’re planning to use if it’s small enough to be indoors.

A close up of a hand holding tiny seeds and a green plastic seedling tray in the background in soft focus.
Photo by Laura Melchor.

I filled my favorite seed cells with some potting mix from Burpee.

Since the seeds are so small, you’ll only need to create a 1/2-inch divot in the potting mix. I dropped two seeds into each hole.

A close up of the packaging of a bag of potting mix for starting seeds in containers.

Organic Potting Mix from Burpee

Then I gently tamped the soil back down over the seeds, as they don’t need light to germinate. I watered them gently with a spray bottle so as not to displace them.

After covering them with the humidity-retaining lids that come with the seed trays I use, I watched and waited.

A week later, the seeds had germinated. I thinned them with sharp scissors so that I was left with only one tiny seedling in each cell.

A close up of a plastic seedling tray with germinated seeds on a dark background.
Photo by Laura Melchor.

About a week after that, the first set of true leaves emerged.

A couple days later – with my preschooler’s help – I transplanted the seedlings to their permanent residence: the window box.

A close up of a hand holding a tiny seedling ready for transplanting into a large container on a soft focus background.
Photo by Laura Melchor.

Then, I set them in the window with its warm, sunny light. One thing I absolutely love about Alaska (well, I love just about everything about living here) is that from March onwards, our days get extra long.

By summertime, as most people know, the sun never completely sets. Which is perfect for gardeners.

A close up of a small green plastic pot containing purple and yellow violas, with a red wooden fence in soft focus in the background.
Photo by Laura Melchor.

If you’d like, you can wait to transplant until the seedlings have two or three sets of true leaves.

Remember to plant them six to eight inches apart and to prepare your container as described above.

Blooms will fill your containers with color and your heart with joy. Most varieties produce flowers within three months and will continue to bloom for twelve weeks in favorable conditions.

A close up vertical picture of brightly colored pansies growing in pots o a balcony, with blue sky and buildings in soft focus in the background.

Start hardening the seedlings off once temperatures are reliably above 40°F outdoors by placing the containers in a sheltered location for four hours a day, and then five hours, and so on until they’re outside full-time.

Container Care

These flowers are extra easy to care for once they’re happily tucked into their permanent containers.

All you need to do is make sure they get an inch of water every week. Check the soil moisture by poking your finger about two inches into the dirt, making sure not to disturb the root system.

If it feels moist, there’s no need to water. If it looks dry, give them some water.

A vertical picture with two small decorative pots containing pretty violet flowers in a variety of colors, set on a wooden surface, with a green watering can in the foreground.

After a rainstorm, leave off watering for about a week so as not to bog the violets down in too much moisture.

To keep the plants cool and moist, add an inch of organic mulch to the pot, making sure to leave the area around the stems clear so that they don’t rot.

Violas need six to eight hours of sun – or grow light attention – every day. If you’re growing them indoors with a grow light, keep the light about two to three inches away from the plant, adjusting as it grows.

Those of you in warmer climates can move your containers to dappled shade to keep the flowers happy in hot weather.

Another thing that keeps your flowers fresh in midsummer is to deadhead them whenever you see fading blooms. This can help keep them producing well into the fall.

A close up of the packaging of a flower fertilizer on a white background.

All Natural Rose and Flower Mix Fertilizer

And don’t forget the fertilizer! Fertilize with a flower fertilizer high in phosphorus, like this one from Arbico Organics, every three to four weeks to keep the flowers happy.

Growing Tips

  • Sow seeds 8-12 weeks before your average last frost date for a spring planting or in late summer for a fall planting.
  • Provide 1 inch of water weekly, adjusted according to rainfall.
  • Fertilize with a high-phosphorus flower fertilizer every 3-4 weeks.
  • Add a layer of organic mulch to help keep the roots cool and moist in hot locations.

Cultivars to Select

Just about any viola variety works well in a container, but here are two fun mixes to plant in a pot for a pop of color.

Swiss Giant Mixture

These 3- to 4-inch annual pansies will shine in a front-porch pot or window box. The dark blotches in the center of the petals provide a contrast for the lighter edges.

A close up of the 'Swiss Violet' series of violet flowers with yellow petals and dark centers, on a soft focus background. To the bottom right of the frame is a circular logo and white text.

‘Swiss Giant’ Mix’

This ‘Swiss Giant’ (V. x wittrockiana) mix comes in yellow, pink, red, purple, blue, and white.

You can find a 1/4 ounce package containing 9,900 seeds available at True Leaf Market. Imagine how many gorgeous annual blooms you can fill your containers with!

Plus, these pansies are hardy to Zones 4-10, so gardeners almost everywhere can enjoy their color this spring and summer, and even into the fall and winter for those in balmy climes.

Pansy Mix

For a fun mix of compact, prolific blooms in  purple, violet, lavender, and yellow try the beautiful Pansy Mix, V. cornuta.

A close up of variously colored pansies growing in the garden in bright sunshine on a soft focus background.

Pansy Mix

Slightly smaller blooms than the ‘Swiss Giant’ series but no less stunning, containers full of these flowers would look lovely against a tan, gray, yellow, or white house.

You can fill your pot with bountiful blooms with seeds in a variety of packet sizes available at Eden Brothers.

Managing Pests and Disease

While violets tend to stay pretty healthy, they can fall prey to a few different pests and disease.

If mulch gets too close to the stem, they can develop crown rot, characterized by white fungus growing at the base of the plant. You’ll need to yank infected plants so that the rot doesn’t spread, as it will kill the plant.

If the soil pH is too high – above 6.2 – violas can show signs of black root rot, a fungal disease caused by Thielaviopsis basicola, where the foliage turns yellow and stops growing. Make sure you plant in slightly acidic soil to avoid this issue, and apply fungicide to affected plants.

Does the foliage suddenly have yellow or purple blotches? You might be dealing with downy mildew. A white powdery substance on the foliage signals the presence of powdery mildew.

Apply a fungicide and avoid watering violas from above and leaving them out for too long in damp weather. This is easy to do, since you’re growing them in containers.

A close up of a slug in the garden on a soft focus background.

As for pests, aphids, spider mites, and slugs and snails can all munch on your flowers and foliage.

If slugs and snails are making their way into your pots, sprinkle diatomaceous earth around your plants to keep the slimy mollusks away.

To discourage them from ruining your container garden, plant ladybug-attracting flowers in the same, or adjacent containers. Geraniums, angelica, tansy, and Queen Anne’s lace are all good choices.

A close up of a number of ladybugs on a green leaf.

Live Ladybugs from Arbico Organics

You can also purchase live ladybugs from Arbico Organics to keep aphids in check.

A close up of the packaging of a neem oil insecticide on a white background.

Neem Oil Insecticide

Alternatively, applying neem oil, like this one, also from Arbico Organics, can help keep the pests away once you spot them chowing down on your violets.

Spray the flowers once a week to once every two weeks for best results.

Let Violets Welcome the Spring

A container or two of these early spring bloomers in your front walkway can be a sweet reminder of hope and new life to anyone who drives or walks by.

A collection of colorful metal pots with a variety of violet flowers in bloom, set on a wooden surface, with a garden scene in soft focus in the background.

One day, I will build window boxes on my house so that it can look like those gorgeous Austrian homes in the mountains.

But for now, containers will do.

Have you tried growing violets in containers? Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to share a photo!

And if you are looking for more information about growing a container garden, check out these guides next:


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing violet flowers in pots and containers.

Photos by Laura Melchor © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Arbico Organics, Burpee, Eden Brothers, and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Laura Melchor

Laura Melchor grew up helping her mom in the garden in Montana, and as an adult she’s brought her cold-weather gardening skills with her to her home in Alaska. She’s especially proud of the flowerbeds she and her three-year-old son built with rocks dug up from their little Alaska homestead. As a freelance writer, she contributes to several websites and blogs across the web. Laura also writes novels and holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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