Of all the house plants on the market today, the African Violet is #1. With literally thousands of named varieties to choose from and new hybrid varieties being introduced each year, the connoisseur of African violets can have "billions of blossoms" year round.
With a little advance planning, African Violets can be grown in almost any home. With proper care, varieties with 1" to 2" flowers of pink, blue, purple, white or bicolor will bloom prolifically. Both single and double flowering varieties have a multitude of flower and leaf characteristics. Flowers come with smooth, ruffled or frilled petals and the leaves range from green to bronze. Some leaves have pinkish or white variegation.
The one environmental factor which has the greatest potential of positive results is that of proper light. If a plant has insufficient light it will not come into bloom or stay in bloom. Bright, indirect or filtered sunlight, for at least 6 hours per day, will keep an African violet full of blossoms. If morning and afternoon sunshine can be provided (protect from noon sun), blossoms will be unbelievable if other conditions are met. For those without a sunny window, 14 to 16 hours of fluorescent gro-lights, 8" to 10" above the plants, will produce beautiful blooms.
For the stubborn African Violet, one that just won't bloom, provide a blossom-booster-type plant food and place the non-bloomer under fluorescent gro-lights (as close as 3- to 4-inches), 14-16 hrs/day, for 21 days.
African Violets love the home temperature environment of 650 to 700 at night and 750 or higher for days. Quick changes in temperature must be avoided, as well as chilly nights. During the winter months, remove plants from window sills which become cold. Cool or cold roots will cause immediate collapse of African violet leaves and petioles.
Prepared potting mixes for African Violet are a good investment if you are planning to start and grow your own plants. Such prepared mixes have been pH balanced and have been amended with calcium (a must for African Violets which are native to limestone cliffs).
A potting mix of 2 parts milled sphagnum peat moss to 1 part sterilized soil, and 1 part sharp sand or perlite, can be made or purchased already prepared. For homemade preparations add 1 tsp. of pulverized lime or powdered egg shells to each 2 quarts of mix. (CAUTION: If you choose to use powdered egg shells as your source of calcium, remove the linings from the inside of the shells before pulverizing them. If you forget to remove the lining you could end up with soil that smells like rotten eggs -- a most unpleasant "fragrance"!)
Watering practices can also make the difference between success and failure. Keep the soil slightly moist at all times. Never allow African Violet soil to dry completely. The use of the water wicks (available at most florists and garden centers) can help you accomplish the constant watering. Placing plants on humidity trays (shallow baking pans with gravel and water) allows development of large leaves because it provides added humidity.
Self-watering pots by Decor and Rubbermaid provide even moisture for African Violets. Self-watering pots have a reservoir of water in their base from which water is drawn by capillary action. To avoid a continually wet or soggy soil, it is important to follow the manufacturer's directions for filling the self-watering pots. Use the African Violet soil when potting a new plant in the self-watering container. Wick-watering systems, which have been available for decades, work by siphoning water from a reservoir, up a "wick" made of cotton thread. The volume of water is adjusted by increasing or decreasing the size of the thread column.
Feeding monthly with prepared African Violet food is essential. Select a high phosphorus fertilizer, such as 12-36-14, to promote bloom. Bone meal, blended with the soil mix at potting time, is also an excellent slow-release source of phosphorus.
Propagation can be fun because it will afford a supply of African Violets for gift plants. Propagate at any time of the year by removing "babies" from parent plants, or by leaf cuttings. Placing petiole (stem of leaf) no more than 3 inch deep in slightly moist sand will produce a new plant in a few weeks. Be sure to keep humid conditions during propagation.
Seed starting kits for African Violets are available from many mail-order seed houses and found at specialty plant shops. A kit usually contains a windowsill-greenhouse, seed-starting mix and 50 ultra-microscopic African Violet seeds, almost the size of dust particles. Since African violets do not come true from seed, the 50 seeds would produce 50 new varieties of African Violets.
Propagation by "hydroponics" techniques is also acceptable. Clip a mature leaf along with the petiole (the stem which holds the leaf to the main stem). Fill a glass with water to within 1/4-inch of the rim. Cover the glass of water with a sheet of clear plastic or plastic wrap, secured by a rubber band near the top of the glass. Poke a hole in the plastic cover with the tip of a pencil. (Do not use a knife as it tends to create a hole that is too large.) Insert the petiole portion of the African Violet leaf through the hole so that the petiole base is submerged no deeper than 3 to 2 inch into the water. Set the glass with leaf on a bright, warm window sill (possibly over the sink). Within 21 days, roots should begin to grow from the base of the petiole and a baby plantlet will emerge shortly thereafter from the same location. Once the plantlet has grown to a size that can be handled without crushing it with your fingers, remove the rubber band and cut away the plastic top. Pot the newly rooted baby plantlet in an African Violet potting mix, no deeper than the base of the petiole of the "mother" leaf. Once the baby shows new growth, clip away the mother leaf. If "mother" is still in good shape, repeat the process. In fact, I have propagated as many as four new baby plants from the same Amother@ source.
Pest control starts with monthly cleaning and sanitary conditions.
The mealy bug (those white, cottony blobs) pierces and sucks the sap from the plant tissue. By the time you come to notice them, they may have already become a major problem on your African violet. You will find adults, nymphs, and egg masses on the bottom side of the leaves, along the petioles, and on the stem of the mother plant. To suppress the mealy bug problem, African Violets can be rinsed with tepid water if excess water droplets are shaken from the leaves immediately after rinsing. (This is important because water droplets remaining on the foliage can cause spotting and decay the leaf tissue.) If you decide to use a pesticide, please -- read the label -- and follow the manufacturer's rates and recommendations.
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