African violets should be the perfect house plant - easy to propagate, easy to care for.
It is only necessary to follow a few rules, and these obliging little plants will do the rest.
Saintpaulias or, as they are more commonly known, African Violets, are amongst the most colourful of all indoor plants.
A well-grown plant can produce a continuous display for many months.
An equable temperature is best for them. Below 15 degrees C growth is slow, leaves tend to be brittle and to mildew. The optimum temperature is 18 to 21 deg C. In the hot summer months growth is profuse, but flower color may suffer. These plants like plenty of fresh air, but do not like cold or draught. Try to give them adequate air movement without allowing them to be in windy places. Stagnant air is unsatisfactory.
Watering African Violets
Overwatering is often fatal, through crown rot. Soil on the top of the pot should be dry to the touch before the next watering is given.
Water temperature is most important.
When much cooler than the leaves it may cause streaking, making and even loss of green cells. It's best to use warm water (about 20-25 deg. C) and to water first thing in the morning while the plant is cool. Early watering also ensures leaves and stems will be dried out before night fall, a good safeguard against various rots and fungus diseases.
TOP TIP - In capital cities, or in areas where town water is fairly heavily chlorinate, the chlorine can be quite detrimental. It is better to use rain water, or allow city water to stand overnight to help eliminate chlorine.
Very hard alkaline water is equally undesirable. Acidify by adding vinegar - Teaspoon to 4.5/ (per gal) of water. The remains of the breakfast teapot would help where water is alkaline.
While a sodden, waterlogged pot can be fatal to African Violets the do need humid air and suffer in heated rooms. Remedies are: (a) a kettle or open dish close to the heat so that gentle steaming moistens the atmosphere, (b) the pots may stand on a layer of drainage material - gravel, stone or brick chips - in a tray with sufficient water to keep the drainage material moist, (be sure not to over fill try so that bottoms of pots are in water), (c) daily - in dry weather even twice daily - must syringe the leaves with water that is a few degrees warmer than room temperature.
Below is a perfect example creating humidity to strike African Violet leaf cutting.
Light is important as watering, and it too can be overdone. Saintpaulias like diffused light and no direct sun. On a clear day at noon the light may be equivalent to about 11,000 foot - candles or even more, which is ten times the amount of light needed by Saintpaulias (about 1,100 foot - candles) Top: Eight different Saintpaulias growing together to form a magnificent display.
The ideal position is about 15 cm or so from a window which does not receive direct sunshine. If you want continuing and vigorous growth during winter, You might arrange for a two - forty - watt fluorescent fitting to be available, so that your plants can get about 18 hour s of light daily. Place the pots about 30 cm away from the tube for best results. The lamps should be carefully placed. They can be immediately over plants with dark green leaves or variates leaves should be about 40 cm. away to one side or at one end of the tubes.
Where the light comes from one side onto your plants, to prevent uneven growth give the pots a quarter -turn every day, which will turn them almost right round twice a week and should ensure no bending towards the light.
Soil for African Violets
If you can't buy prepared, sterile African violet soil you can make up the following mixture:
22 parts crushed cow manure
1 part powdered charcoal
3 parts compost of leaf mould
8 parts good loam
2 parts peatmoss
2 parts vermiculite
3 parts sharp sand
( The mixture should not be finely sieved, as some coarser particles are wanted in Saintpaulia soils.)
This can be sterilised in buckets or similar containers by wetting it with formalin mixture 85 ml in 4.5 / water. After wetting cove the buckets for 24 hours. Then spread out for 10 to 14 days until no smell of formalin remains.
Feeding African Violets
The most satisfactory method of feeding is to use a monthly liquid manure program at half strength. Use tepid water slightly warmer than the plants or air temperature and feed while the soil is damp - say the next morning after regular watering. Don't allow strong sunlight on wet leaves.
Some general points of after care for African Violets
Remove damaged or withered leaves and spent flowers.
Where foliage is very crowded,, removal of a few central leaves, especially in multiple - crowned plants will let in more light and stimulate growth of lower flower buds.
Watch for pests and diseases and treat promptly. The best health insurance is a regular monthly spraying.
Surplus side shoots may be removed and propagated or discarded.
Spray or wash the leaves regularly with tepid water and do not put wet plants in the sun.
Whenever you buy new plants quarantine them for some weeks before putting them with healthy plants.
Propagation from seed
Most seed does not come true to type, but you may produce a new variety. The seed is sprinkled thinly on the surface of finely sieved, sandy soil and watered from below by standing the pot or box in a tray of water. A temperature of about 21 deg.C is desirable. Germination takes several weeks. The little plants are large enough to handle when they get their sixth or eight pair of leaves. Prick them out into 5 cm sterilised pots, at each move using the special soil mentioned above.
(Pots may be sterilised by immersion in the same formalin solution. Leave to dry out until the smell has gone.)
From leaves - in waters
Leaves may be rooted in water at anytime. Almost fill a small jar with water and cover it all will aluminium foil held in place by a rubber band. Allow a small hole in the top for leaf-stalk. Healthy, mature leaves are prepared by cutting the stalk about 4 cm long with a sharp knife or blade. Leave 30 mins to dry and heal the cut end. Slip the leaf stalk through the hole so that the end has 6 mm in the water. Give light and air as for a potted plant. Replenish water regularly. A lump or two of charcoal helps to keep the water sweet.
When the new small plants appear they can be potted as for seedlings when large enough to handle, potting the leaf as well if small, separate plantlets are dissected off from the bottom of the old leaf, these will grow into single-crowned plants, but will be much slower. Should there be insufficient length of stalk on a leaf, part of the leaf-blade may be removed with a sharp blade.
From leaves - in cutting mix
The best mix is of equal parts of sharp sand, peatmoss and vermiculite. Firm pot, flat pan, or seed-box and sterilise the whole by the formalin treatment.
Leaves are prepared as for water- treatment. If too floppy to stand up in the mix support them on a silver of wood or plastic label. The leaves will resist pulling once root development has started and can then receive liquid manure feeing at ½ - strength as for pot plants. The ideal temperature is around 21 deg. C. Water with warm water. Pot on into 5 cm pots as for seedlings.
Small side branches may be grown on by either the water or mixture method, using the same careful cleanliness. Old straggly plants may be beheaded and then the side shoots taken from the beheaded top section. Each of these can be rooted by the usual methods and the stump will shoot again and produce a good shaped plant.
Some Notes on Potting African Violets
Saintpaulias are shallow rooters, so squat pots are preferred. In larger, deeper pots there is always more danger of overwatering and water logging. Small lumps of charcoal make the healthiest drainage material at the bottom of the pot. Clean and sterilise all old pots, and soak them all before using.
Generally under pot rather than over pot, i.e. move on into a pot only one size larger than the old one, and allow the plants to get slightly pot-bound before shifting. Flowering is usually more profuse from moderately pot-bound plants. Moving into too large pots tends to encourage leaf-growth at the expense of flowering and may five rise to crown rot.
When dividing your plantlets, if they do not pull apart cleanly, separate with a sharp, clean razor blade and dust the cut surface with colloidal sulphur.