The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Your Life - BY GARY R. BACH­MAN Gary Bach­man, Ph.D., is an ex­ten­sion and re­search pro­fes­sor of hor­ti­cul­ture at the Mis­sis­sippi State Uni­ver­sity Coastal Re­search and Ex­ten­sion Cen­ter in Biloxi. Con­tact him at south­ern­gar­den­ing

Are you look­ing for cool-sea­son color that’s a sure thing — a take-it-tothe-bank gar­den plant? Then, do I have the plant for you. Though quite small in stature, this plant is huge in the color de­part­ment. Now that I’ve got your at­ten­tion, the plant I’m re­fer­ring to is the beau­ti­ful vi­ola.

I’ve heard quite a few folks call vi­ola “lit­tle pan­sies,” and that’s not far from the truth. Vi­o­las and pan­sies are very close cousins. But don’t think their diminu­tive stature means these are — and I apol­o­gize for the fol­low­ing phrase — gar­den “pan­sies.”

Vi­o­las are rough and tough, and they laugh at win­ter weather. The only real is­sue to watch is mois­ture. All vi­o­las need to grow in con­sis­tently moist soil, and it is es­pe­cially im­por­tant to mon­i­tor this is­sue in con­tain­ers.

Vi­o­las go by the com­mon name of Johnny Jump-ups, a ref­er­ence to their pro­lific seed pro­duc­tion. Ev­ery fall, they seem to pop up in ran­dom places in the gar­den. Wher­ever I have planted them in my yard, they con­tinue to reap­pear for at least a cou­ple of years. When­ever I spot these vol­un­teers, I let them grow to con­tinue the cy­cle.

My fa­vorite va­ri­ety is the Sor­bet se­ries. These eas­ily are the best vi­o­las on the mar­ket, grow­ing about 4 to 6 inches tall and wide. Sor­bets are great choices when mass planted and when es­tab­lished, they seem to cover the land­scape with a flo­ral blan­ket.

Sor­bet vi­o­las re­sist stretch­ing and stay com­pact through the sea­son, even as the tem­per­a­ture starts to rise in the spring. And the best as­pect is that their color se­lec­tion seems ab­so­lutely end­less, with at least 25 dif­fer­ent col­ors avail­able. These col­or­ful flow­ers are dis­played above the fo­liage to re­ally showoff.

I’ve seen lots of vi­o­las in my lo­cal gar­den cen­ters, and un­like pre­vi­ous years, the se­lec­tion is still great. Re­mem­ber that vi­ola root sys­tems need time to grow and get es­tab­lished be­fore the cold win­ter air sets in. The best news is that it’s not too late to start plant­ing now.

I’m con­fi­dent that we still have enough time to plant vi­o­las, es­pe­cially when grow­ing them in con­tain­ers. If you think you’re tak­ing a chance plant­ing now, let me tell you some­thing: Sor­bet vi­o­las con­tinue to per­form well all the way to Easter.

Be sure to plant in full sun for the best flow­er­ing and dis­play. 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 feed­ing keeps the plants at their flow­er­ing best through the cool sea­son.

Like all bed­ding plants, vi­o­las are avail­able at gar­den cen­ters in packs and in 3- or 4-inch pots.

Which one should you choose? The in­di­vid­ual pots cost more but start with larger plants. The plants in packs are a lit­tle cheaper per plant and have more per flat, but they take longer to fill in. I like to choose the con­trac­tor packs, which have larger root sys­tems and are eas­ier to work with, es­pe­cially if I’m plant­ing in chilly weather and my fin­gers are cold.

Make sure you pick out your fa­vorites to cre­ate a col­or­ful land­scape to­day.

GARY BACH­MAN MSU Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice

Sor­bet vi­o­las such as these Ba­nana Creams are great choices for mass plant­ing, and when es­tab­lished, they seem to cover the land­scape with a flo­ral blan­ket.

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