Gardeners' Dirt: African violet - A Mother's Day plant
By Deloris Gaus - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
May 8, 2014 at 12:08 a.m.
It has been said that Mother's Day began with a living flower because it symbolized the simple love a mother provides to her family. Similarly, the African violet is considered by some the perfect Mother's Day gift because it rewards simple devotion with ease in care and continuous blooms throughout most of the year.
African violets are grown as houseplants, and I have grown them for about 40 years since I got my first plant, named White Pride Supreme, from my college textile professor. I grew that first one with a florescent desk lamp and am currently growing four plants with that same lamp. I have had as many as 100 plants on two plant stands, all using the wick-watering method with soilless medium.
These plants come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors with a few growing requirements.
African violets are usually grown in plastic pots with a reservoir for water underneath in a soilless mixture. Recipes for soilless mixtures can be found on the Internet or purchased from local violet growers, plant suppliers and vendors.
Water with a mixture of one-fourth of a teaspoon of violet fertilizer mixed into 1 gallon of, preferably, rainwater at room temperature. Use this mixture for every watering while being careful not to overwater. That is the most common cause for violets not thriving.
Water from the top of the plant or use the wick-watering method. I use a strip of old panty hose that soaks up the water by capillary action out of a reservoir of fertilized water. The wick method is good when going on vacation.
If wicks are too large in diameter, overwatering may occur. Sometimes, plants need to be watered from the top to remove salts and should be left to dry out some before being put back on wick watering.
An east window with filtered sunlight is a good light source. Give the plant a quarter of a turn every few days, especially when using natural light. With many years experience, however, I have found that florescent lights are the best source of light for violets.
If the plant has enough light, the plant will grow into a circular form that is flat. If it does not have enough light, it will grow taller with the leaves reaching up for light. Moving the plant closer or farther from the light source will provide uniformity of growth. Eight to 10 hours of light each day is sufficient.
When plants do not bloom, the usual cause is not enough light. Move the plant closer to the light source.
African violets like the same temperature as humans, with some humidity and good air circulation. However, they cannot be in a draft or direct fan air. Good air circulation keeps plants free of powdery mildew.
Violets like to be somewhat root-bound, but when the root ball becomes larger, it is time to repot. Brown roots also indicate it is time to repot because healthy roots are numerous and white in appearance. Repotting is always one pot size larger.
Good cultural practices
Use good cultural practices to keep plants in optimum condition.
Sizes and forms
Mini, semi and standard are the usual sizes of violets. The form of the plant is circular with one middle crown, which should be flat with leaves radiating from the center of the crown. Sometimes, violets get out of hand and grow several crowns, which can be divided into single crown plants.
Some violets have a tendency to sucker, which occurs when a small plant grows close to the mother plant stem. The suckers are removed from the mother plant with a very sharp pointed tool. A sharpened pencil can be used to pluck the sucker from the main stem. Putting this sucker into soil will usually grow into a new plant with care not to cover the crown of growth and being kept moderately moist.
Remove old leaves, which are somewhat jelly-like in texture and occur naturally. Remove old spent blossoms. Keep leaves clean by using a soft brush such as one for makeup or an unused paint brush.
These simple growing requirements with good cultural practices will produce an abundance of plants and a rewarding hobby that is relatively inexpensive, educational and intriguing while watching violets grow. Try one as a gift for this Mother's Day, and let its beauty reward simple devotion.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.