The Joy of Growing African Violets
By Anne Tinari
January/February 1999 African Violet Magazine, pages 44-45
We must never forget the general public and young people who are being indoctrinated and introduced to the joy of growing African violets.
Thus, I gave the following lecture at the Philadelphia Flower Show this spring using live demonstration to our overwhelming captive audience.
The propagation of African violets is fascinating, simple and easy; even a small child can achieve success. To see a new little plantlet form at the base of a cut leaf is a rewarding task.
Afew easy steps can assure satisfactory results.
Remove a good firm leaf with a clean break from your African violet plant. Never choose the center leaves as they are the heart of the plant, or the lower outer leaves that lack vigor. Instead, a sturdy, firm mature leaf is most suitable.
Cut the petiole, or stem, about 1" to 1 1/2", dip the cut end lightly in a rooting hormone to encourage quick, even growth. Place the cutting in a rooting medium that has been sterilized. We prefer a mixture of half builder's sand and half fine vermiculite, though other mixtures can be used such as perlite, peat moss or sphagnum moss.
Insert the cutting in the prepared rooting medium about 1/2", enough to hold the leaf firmly. Press rooting medium securely around the leaf cutting. Leaves can also be rooted in water, but they produce very fragile, fine roots in comparison to the above methods.
When the tiny leaves are about an inch high at the base of the Mother leaf (in about 2 to 6 weeks) they are ready to be lifted gently into their individual 2" to 2 1/4" pots using prepared African violet soil. Vigorous young plants are formed by the third or fourth month. Don't be too hasty to remove the Mother leaf as it supplies chlorophyll that nourishes the new, tender growth of the young plantlets.
If plants have developed several crowns and are 3" to 5" high they can be gently separated, leaving as much fibrous root as possible on each plantlet and put each separation back into a 2" to 2 1/4" pot.
Do not expect miracles, but concentrate on a good vigorous single crown plant. Even in the greenhouse, with ideal conditions for growth, it takes approximately nine months to a year to produce a flowering plant from a leaf cutting.
Environment affects African violets to a great degree and there are a few basic cultural guidelines one should follow in growing African violets and producing healthy flowering plants. Lighting is very important. Sufficient light is needed but avoid direct burning sunlight. In the winter months south and east windows are most suitable and for the hot summer months north and west.
An alternative way for growing is artificial light, which is very beneficial. Fluorescent lights are best so the light is dispersed and lights should be on 12 to 14 hours a day with eight hours of complete darkness.
Potting and soil are important factors. African violets are very shallow rooted, thus squatty pots are best and growth is in better proportion. This is a semi-tropical plant, thus we find the plastic pots are most suitable as they are warmer and do not collect salts that damage stems. They are inexpensive and easily cleaned.
Soil should be light and airy, allowing fibrous roots to penetrate. It should be pasteurized to destroy most of the harmful bacteria. We find a soil pH of about 6.4, which is slightly acid, to be most suitable.
While watering is also very important, there is a tendency to over water. Plants should always be slightly moist to the touch and receive only the amount of water, preferably warm, they can use at one time.
The size of the pot and the texture of the soil will determine how often plants will need watering. Avoid getting water on the foliage, especially if grown in natural light, as water on the foliage along with bright sunlight can cause spotting of the leaves, especially if there is a ten degree temperature variation.
Feeding also can be a great advantage in keeping plants in good growing condition. As the plant is watered many of the nutrients are leached out of the soil, so by using a diluted plant food this can be replenished. Food such as Peters or the popular well-balanced Optimara violet food can be used at every watering if used in a diluted form - 1/4 tsp to a gallon of warm water. This can help plants to maintain an even growth. Never feed plants when they are excessively dry.
Proper humidity of about 40% promotes floriferous, larger blossoms. Plants prefer a fresh buoyant atmosphere and a moderate even temperature of 70 to 75 degrees for best performance. Provide good ventilation and keep plants from direct drafts and cold window sills when low temperatures are prevalent.
You may wish to initiate a preventative spraying program with a suitable insecticide to keep plants free of pests. We find a spray used once a month can help keep your collection in a healthy growing condition.
With the thousands of beautiful cultivars ranging from colors of pure white, all shades of pink, purple, lavender and burgundy plus the two-tone flowering types, one can choose those they most prefer. Foliage, too, has become most interesting over the past 50 years in which hybridizing has been done by Americans.
Leaves can be plain, serrated, wavy or variegated and even the trailer types are fascinating. Miniatures are very interesting and of course the microminis are preferred by many who do not have space to grow the larger types.
No matter if you grow one, a hundred or a greenhouse full, African violets are known as America's #1 house plant for beauty and performance.