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New viola mixes offer excitement
By Norman Winter
Just when I'm old enough to get set in my ways, something new happens in the plant world to get me unsettled. The most recent episode involves violas.
I have always been a mass-plant-a-single-color kind of guy. In other words, mixes and blends have never been my cup of tea. But now I'll admit I am beginning to be won over by mixes, particularly the new Sorbet viola mixes.
The Sorbet series of violas has always been one of my favorites from the standpoint of landscape impact and color palette. Three new mixes have made my admiration even greater.
The Duet Mix has bold, vibrant orange, yellow, violet, cream and lavender petals. The Citrus Mix has orange, yellow and white. The Swirl Mix has an heirloom, or antique, look with pale yellow, cream with lilac and lavender shades.
The viola is an old-fashioned garden favorite and the wild ancestor of the pansy, sometimes even called wild pansy. Another common name is heart's ease, which originated in England where the brightly colored flowers spring up in meadows.
They are very cold-tolerant and transplant to the garden with ease, lasting long into the warm season. Plants will grow 6 to 8 inches tall and are prolific bloomers that may have dozens of dime-sized flowers at one time.
Before planting your Sorbet or any other selection of viola, know they bloom best with full sun in beds with organically rich soil. Part shade is tolerated.
Prepare the bed before planting your violas by amending the soil with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and tilling to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Organic matter helps loosen the soil for better water penetration and aeration, leading to good root development.
Incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Set out plants 6 to 8 inches apart, planting at the same depth they are growing in the container. Maintain a layer of mulch to keep soil temperatures moderate.
Violas and Johnny jump-ups are heavy feeders. Feed every four weeks with a light application of the 12-6-6 fertilizer, or every other week with a diluted, water-soluble, 20-20-20 or similar fertilizer. When you can, deadhead the old flowers a little to encourage more flower production.
In addition to these three new mixes, there are 35 colors or blends to choose from, so there should be a color to suit every palette and color combination. Remember to use them in combination with color from other cool-season plants like dianthus, flowering kale and cabbage, Red Giant mustard and snapdragons, and spring flowering bulbs like daffodils or tulips.
You may be a little reluctant to plant cool-season crops just yet because lantanas, salvias, petunias and verbenas are still looking good. But keep in mind that selections are greatest now. If you choose to wait until everything is frosted and cut back, select 6-inch containers of violas and pansies for their larger root systems.