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African Violets

When considering the houseplants in our care, many of us are guided by these faultless gardening maxims: 

No plant left behind...or  

There is always room for one more...or

Every plant needs a loving home (mine)

African violets, when they are in a happy place, not only bloom madly, they also reproduce!! Rapid City gardener, Betty Wagner, shares her experience, methods and advice for dealing with a potential population explosion of violets.


Pot size: Since African violets like to be root-bound before they bloom, they need shallower pots than most plants.  For example, a four-inch pot (diameter) should only be about 2 ½ inches deep. (Review the suggested plant to pot ratios given in the previous page on African violet care.)

It is possible (and more successful) to obtain pots (self-watering) specifically designed for violets. It is quite possible to make good self-watering pots by reusing containers found around the home. One needs a pot the correct size for the violet, and a container with an opening that will hold the base of the pot and contain water that will be wicked up to the plant. 

 Oyama Pots are made especially for African violets.  Each is a two-part pot - the bottom is the  reservoir for water and the top holds the plant. The pots come in a variety of sizes including a very small one suitable for baby plants or the very small miniatures. 

 I purchase mine from Cape Cod Violetry (508 993-2386) out of Maine.  I use these for my adult plants.  You can also rig your own self-watering pots with various glass containers to hold the water and a wick from the pot placed in the glass container.  I use baby food jars when I start leaves and for baby plants.

 

Regular maintenance:  Each time you water your African violet, check its condition.  Remove spent flowers.  Also remove (by cutting as close as possible to the base of the plant with a small, very sharp knife) the older, longer leaves around the edge if they are droopy or have a yellow cast.  These old leaves do not contribute to the health of the plant, and they detract from its appearance.

 

Check to see if there is what appears to be a white powder scattered on the flowers.  This is usually a sign of thrips who feast on the flower’s pollen (see photo at left).  They are very tiny, but you can see them with a magnifying glass.  If the plant has thrips, remove all the flowers on the plant.  Watch for the next bloom cycle, and check flowers again.  If the problem returns, try treating the plant with Neem or a pyrethrin (following the directions, of course.). 

Check for suckers.  These baby plants can be carefully plucked from the plant and potted to make new plants.  

If the top of the soil looks white and crusty (fertilizer buildup), flush with a cup of room-temperature water.  Let the pot drain into the sink, and replace the plant on your shelf.  

Some cautions about flushing the plant with water:

1. Do not get leaves wet; this often causes white spots on the leaves.  If you do get water on a leaf, blot it up with a tissue.  

2. Especially DO NOT get the center of the plant (crown) wet.  

3. If this strategy for removing fertilizer crust doesn’t eliminate the crusty top of soil, repot.

When to repot?

Repotting African violets once a year is usually sufficient for a healthy plant.  (Every six months for minis and semi-minis.)  When you repot baby plants, put them in larger pots gradually.  They will only bloom when their roots hit the side of the pot.  

'Muddy' roots and soil

An exception to this rule would be if you notice the plant declining (appearing droopy even though it has plenty of water).  This would indicate a root problem, even if you repotted recently because the soil can lose its structural integrity  and reduce the air space for the roots.  Remove the plant from the pot, check out roots.  If they are mushy or the soil feels “muddy,”  you will have to repot.  Clean off the roots and any mushy parts of the plant gently to expose the healthy plant material.  Shake to gently remove loose soil if healthy roots remain.  Replant in a pot proportionate to healthy plant, put supports (portions of plastic straws, small wooden squewers) around the plant, water it, and place a baggie over entire pot (if no roots remained). Be certain the baggie-covered plant is kept from direct sun. In a month, the plant will have new roots, and you can remove the baggie.

Naked neck (stem)

Another common and unattractive indication that you need to repot is when the plant develops a neck.  As you remove dead and yellowed leaves from the outside (base) of the plant, the main stem appears as a naked neck.  Repot, cutting off as much from the bottom as you need to sink the plant into the soil. The bottom layer of leaves should be just above the soil.  If you have waited until you have no roots, no problem.  Just lightly scrape the neck to remove calloused material, place in soil, water, and place baggie over pot.  If you have roots on the plant, you do not need to place a baggie over pot.  Just make sure to lightly scrape the neck.  This encourages new roots to help stabilize your plant firmly in the soil.

If you missed seeing that sucker that is now as big as your main plant (you have two or more crowns as shown in photo below), you need to repot.  Take the plant out of pot, and separate each crown. Repot each in its own pot.  If it doesn’t have any roots, just put a baggie over the planted pot for about a month.  Leaving more than one crown on a plant leads to the center of the crown being crowded, not getting enough light, and consequently fewer blooms.


We acknowledge Betty Wagner as the source of this information.

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