more articles >

Getting the Garden Ready for Winter

Sally Ayotte

If your Christmas flowers have finished blooming and you are in need of a little colour in your home why not try growing African Violets. They are cheery small plants that will give you years of enjoyment with a minimum of care.

The African Violet or " Saintpaulia" was first discovered in 1892 in Tanganyika, now part of Tanzania by the Baron Walter Von Saint Paul who was the German governor of a province of this country. It was found growing on shady rocky ledges in the mountains. The seeds were sent back to Germany and the African Violet became a plant of many German households .It was brought to California in 1926. Over the years, due to hybridization many African Violets are available with many variations in leaf as well as flower colour and shape. There are even miniature plants and some that are trailing.

The flowers come in pink, blue, white, mauve, purple, yellow, fuschia and combinations of these shades. I have one that has a flower that is striped in pink and mauve/blue.

The leaves as well, have changed a great deal. They may be light or dark green, variegated white/green or even curly on the edges.

African Violets do not like direct sunlight. Strong sunrays will damage the fleshy part of the leaves by destroying chlorophyll and dry, brown spots may appear on the leaves. My violets seem to like an east window or north. If you only have a sunny (south or west) window, set the plant back from the window, or better still, the use of curtains can block the harsh rays of the sun. African violets can also be grown under artificial light. In order to get and keep bloom the plant requires 12 hours of light per day.

African violets adapt well to the warm temperatures of our homes and by lowering the temperature by about 5-6 degrees at night the plants appearance will improve and the blooms might even be bigger and the white borders on the bicoloured flowers will be brighter. If extra humidity is required set the plants on a tray or saucer filled with water and gravel.

Water the plant when the surface soil is dry and it is still a little moist under the soil. Never splash water on the leaves or get water in the center of the plant. African violets prefer water a little warmer than room temperature and if possible stay away from chlorinated water. You may water from the top or the bottom, but never let the plant sit with wet feet. It is best to water in the morning when it is warmer to avoid fungal diseases with the cooler evening temperatures. Do not over water!

Fertilizing can be done once a month with a fertilizer for African violets. Some folks fertilize every watering using ľ (one quarter) to 1/5 (one fifth) the regular dosage. I use a liquid fertilizer and fertilize every other watering. A higher middle number on the label of fertilizer is important. This is phosphorus and is essential for bloom.

There are pests that can infest the African violet. Mealy bugs, thrips and spider mite are the culprits. There are cures but to my way of thinking, for two dollars I can throw an infected plant out and start fresh and not worry about contaminating the rest of my plants. If there is too high humidity the plant could develop a fungus infestation.

Grooming will keep your plants looking their best. Remove any spent flowers and leaves. Usually the outer row of leaves will fade before they die. They should be removed to keep the plant at itís best. Dust the leaves regularly. A soft brush with natural bristles will do the trick. You can also use a damp sea sponge, but be sure to pat the leaves dry. Turn the plant a ľ (one quarter) turn with each watering to maintain a good symmetrical appearance.

When propagating new plants remove (cutting on a diagonal with a sharp knife) a healthy leaf from the plant. Choose one from halfway from the edge of the pot. Plant this in vermiculite. Do not let the leaf touch the edge of the pot. Place the leaf in a bright spot but not direct sunlight and keep it evenly damp and in 5 to 12 weeks you should see tiny plantlets appearing at the base. When the leaves reach 2 cm. in diameter pot it up in African violet potting soil. Be careful not to over water. African violets can grow in the same pot for years, normally a pot about 6.5 to 7.5 cm. in diameter. Wait until the plant is three times the size of itís pot before repotting and then only increase to a slightly larger pot. If the pot is too large you will have trouble with flowering. The best time to repot is spring and you are better to let the pot dry out somewhat as the leaves are fragile.

I hope I havenít frightened you away from these little beauties. With a little TLC and BY FOLLOWING THE GUIDELINES ABOVE you should have wonderful bloom for most of the year and for many years to come.