The African violet, a house favorite, dresses in many colors and styles
Why not include among your current house plants the African violet (Saintpaulia)?m Even though this plant is not a true violet, you might be surprised to know that its blossom colors range from white through all the reds, purples, and blues.
Some petals are even edged, splashed, spotted, or centered with contrasting shades.
The shape of the blossoms? Take your pick. They range from single plain to single fringed, single star, semi-double, double plain, double fringed, or double crested with yellow stamens and flowers staying on the plant for months.
The African violet's velvety leaves, darkgreen, and sometimes purple on the undersides, are varied, too. They can be smooth, quilted, fluted, rippled, serrated, or variegated. Some gardeners find the miniature plants ideal for a terrarium.
Now, if that isn't enough of an attraction, how about blossoms just about all year round?
Nonetheless, the African violet does have weaknesses. It will not bloom in low-light areas. Ideally, the light should be medium. A simple test for medium light would be a shadow on some white paper.
Spread your hand over a sheet of paper placed between the window and plant. If your fingers cast a soft shadow, the light should be suitable for flowering. Too much light will discolor the foliage. A north or east exposure is fine. In a south or west window simply reduce the sun intensity with sheer curtains.
To induce earlier blooms place the tops of the plant four inches below fluorescent "grow lights," such as the Sylvania Wide Spectrum or Westinghouse Agro, for 12 to 14 hours.
African violets grown with abundant light directly overhead grown with an open, flat top; those plants reaching sideways to light will have elongated stems to one side.
The African violet demands proper water environment, too. Water when the soil surface is dry to the touch, using nonartifically softened, room-temperature water. Water the soil and not the leaves. Sometimes, water standing on leaves can cause leaf spot.
Pots with drainage holes prevent overwatering and reduce the chance of letting the roots tand in water. Roots standing in water form methane gas, which is highly toxic to the plants. Also, keep the pots out of drafts. And if you use lights, water just after you turn the lights on because the plants seem to resist the harmful effects of stem rot better.
You might want to use a flowerpot tray or dish with pebbles under the pot to catch excess watter. But remember, African violets do better when allowed to drain freely and when the night temperature ranges between 65 and 70 degrees F., with a 10-degree warmer temperature in the daytime.
Use a fertilizer that is designed for African violets and be sure to follow the manufacturer's printed directions carefully. Avoid mixing a dry complete fertilizer with the potting soil. And be careful you don't burn the delicate root system.
You can propagate your African violet plants by leaf or stem cutting.
Since they grew from a center crown, they can be particularly suitable for propagation from leaf slips. Choose a healthy, mature leaf, neither on the innermost nor outermost part on the plant. Using these less vigorous leaves only ends in failure from rot. After selecting a proper leaf, cut the leaf stem on a slant right down to the base of the parent plant, leaving about an inch of the stem attached to the leaf but no longer than 1 1/2 inches. Longer stems prolong the rooting process.
Cutting to the base prevents the possibility of the parent plant's rotting at the cut. Cutting on the slant also improves the chances for the new plantlets to come up and have room to develop in front of the leaf slip.
Some growers recommend that African violet leaf cuttings be left out to dry a few hours, or even overnight, before being placed in a rooting medium.
Water is one environment for rooting. Use a large-mouth dark jar and crimp aluminum foil firmly on the jar opening. Poke a few holes for the stem cuttings , allowing none to touch. Then place the cutting in a temperature area not lower than 60 degrees F., but not over 70 degrees. Or you can use fluorescent lights. In any event, keep them out of direct sunlight.
Rainwater or melted snow will produce roots quickly. Remember to use room-temperature water. When the roots are about an inch long, transfer them into 2 1/4-inch pots.
Some growers contend that, if you use the water-rooting technique, the delicate new roots must adjust to a new setting after transferring to soil. Instead, they say, place the new slips directly in a rooting mix.
While this technique is slower in developing roots, the root system is more extensive and seems to develop stronger plantlets for transplanting.
Peat moss mixed with clean, coarse sand is a good rooting medium, but vermiculite, pear moss, and sand serve well, too. You can use plastic containers to start the cuttings, if you wish. Some growers even use plastic cups for seed propagation.
Make miniature holes in the containers for proper moisture and humidity.
Firm the leaf cuttings in the rooting mix to keep them erect and from touching one another. Avoid using any wooden markers next to the cuttings to prevent wood mold.
Place the container on a shallow tray or dish with pebbles. To help maintain proper humidity, cover the cuttings with a clear plastic bag placed over the container. Secure the stakes on the outside of the rooting container with elastic or tape and place the container in the same area as the water cuttings.
In about three months the parent leaf will begin to show plantlets growing alongside. To develop a vigorous root system with the parent, permit these new shoots to attain a five- to six-inch growth with four to five leaves.
Then separate them gently from the parent, taking and leaving enough roots to start individual plants.
You may want to start using a three-or four-inch pot. And be sure to use African violet sterilized potting soil. Commercial potting soil is sterilized of bacteria before it is packaged.
Another good technique is to coat the edges of African violet pots with melted paraffin to prevent any salts from accumulating on the pot's rim. Salts rot and destroy leaves.
After two weeks or so spray the plants with a ready-to-use liquid insecticide , such as Precise, which can be used for other house plants as well. Control mealybugs with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
When you see the pot filled with roots, use a well-balanced fertilizer.
Report in larger five-to six-inch pots when the roots have completely overtaken the soil ball. In repotting, place the plant crown slightly above the soil to prevent rotting of the fleshy stems. Using a sharp blade, trim off any old dying leaves close to the crown.
Professional handling and respect for your African violets will give you a glorious, rewarding blossom display which you will find hard to match in any other house plant.