Southern Gardening: Sorbet violas offer rich variety of winter color


Violas such as these Sorbet True Blues used to be called Johnny jump-ups because of how their prolific seed production allows them to pop up in random places.

Violas such as these Sorbet True Blues used to be called Johnny jump-ups because of how their prolific seed production allows them to pop up in random places. Photo by: Gary Bachman/MSU Extension Service


Gary Bachman



For cool-season color, you can't beat the old-fashioned plants our grandparents called Johnny jump-ups. We now call these pansy cousins violas, and they give the home garden big color.


Violas are tough plants that tolerate cold and rainy winter weather very well. They have the common name of Johnny jump-up because they pop up in random places in landscapes where they have been previously planted.


The flowers produce an amazing amount of seed. I've had these volunteers appear in random containers, cracks in the sidewalk and crevices in railroad ties. Wherever they pop up, I let them grow. It's kind of like Mother Nature doing a little landscape design.



There are several viola series currently carried by many garden centers, but the Sorbet series is my absolute favorite.


Sorbet violas come in a wide variety of colors -- more than 25. There are solid colors as well as splotches, blotches and bicolors. Their flowering potential is truly outstanding. It's been my gardening experience that Sorbet violas' flowering will conceal their foliage.


The garden centers I've visited still have a good selection from which to choose, so it's not too late to plant some in your landscape.


These plants have a great growth habit, reaching up to 6 inches tall and wide. Sorbet violas resist stretching and stay compact through the season, even as temperatures start to rise in the spring.


A great attribute of violas is that when planted in the fall, they carry on through to the spring. It's especially important to get the violas planted before the onset of consistent cold weather, as this allows their root systems to get established.


Like all bedding plants, violas are available at the garden centers in packs and in 3- or 4-inch pots. Which one do you choose? The pack plants are a little cheaper per plant and have more per flat, but they will take longer to fill in. I like to choose the contractor packs, as these have a larger root system and are easier to work with.


For the best flowering display, be sure to plant in the full sun. I always put a couple of teaspoons of controlled-release fertilizer in the planting hole and apply water-soluble fertilizer every three weeks during normal watering. This keeps the plants at their flowering best through the cool season.


The only real issue to watch for is moisture. All violas need to grow in consistently moist soil, and this is especially important to monitor in containers.


So, whether you call them Johnny jumps or violas, the important thing is to plant these flowers in your garden and landscape this year.


Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi and hosts Southern Gardening television and radio programs. Contact him at [email protected]




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