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Support pollinators with cheerful viola flowers

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URBANA, Ill. – Roses are red, violets are blue and they have also earned top honors being named Plant of the Year by the International Herb Association. Every year, the association selects plants that are considered outstanding for decorative, culinary, or medicinal use. This year, they have selected Viola, a genus of flowering plants.

“With their brightly-colored blooms that resemble cheerful faces peeking out of the foliage, Violas make a great addition to any early-season container or garden plantings,” says Brittnay Haag, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. “Blooms can be found in a variety of colors, including solids, bicolor, and mixes.”

In the language of flowers, a common practice in the Victorian era that allowed messages and emotions to be shared with others, Violas symbolize thoughts filled with love. It is also the birth flower of those born in February.

Members of the genus Viola – including pansies, violets, and Johnny jump ups – are cool-season plants that grow best in spring and fall. They should be planted in areas with morning sun and moist, well-drained soils. As the weather warms in late May and June, many cool-season plants will fade out and stop blooming but can be moved to a cool, shady place in the garden to extend their growing season.

“Violas are also great for pollinators,” Haag says. “These cool-season annuals supply early spring pollinators with much-needed nectar.”

In early March, pollinators emerge looking for food sources to survive. There are very few flowering plants at that time, except spring-blooming bulbs like grape hyacinth and crocus. Planting cool-season annuals provide an important addition to their spring diet. Johnny jump up flowers even have thin dark stripes that serve as guides for the pollinators to find nectar as they visit the flowers and pollinate other flowering plants by transferring pollen.

When planting Violas in spring or fall containers, add interesting twigs, like birch, contorted filbert, or curly willow to the center of containers. These elements add height and interest to the arrangement of low-growing flowers. If planting these annuals in-ground, group them in large masses to create waves of color amongst shrubs, ornamental grasses, or perennials.

An added bonus to including pansies or violets in the garden is that the flowers can be harvested and added as a colorful edible garnish to soups, salads, and desserts. They can also be candied for a sweet treat. If you plan on eating the flowers, raise them without chemical treatment.

Past International Herb Association Plants of the Year to also consider planting in your garden are parsley (Petroselinum), anise hyssop (Agastache ssp.), coriander/cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), and savory (Saturea ssp.).

For more information on gardening, connect with your local Illinois Extension county office at

SOURCE: Brittnay Haag Horticulture Educator, University of Illinois Extension

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