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Violet Food is a fertilizer specifically labeled
for African Violets. A good Violet Food should have approximately equal
amounts of the primary nutrients, nitrogen (N),
phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). These elements are normally found on the
front label and will appear, for instance, as 14-12-14. This formula, 14-12-14,
is the recommended formula for standard African Violets, such as those grown
in 3-inch pots or larger. Miniature and super miniature African Violets,
such as those grown in 2-inch pots or less, will typically need a slightly
different formula. For those growing Optimara miniatures, a Violet Food
or Miniature Plant Food with a 7-9-5 NPK is recommended.
Aside from making sure your Violet Food has the correct NPK, it is important
to consider the source of the elements. Many fertilizers which have been
labeled for African Violets, in fact, contain impurities which can be harmful
to Violets. Urea, for instance, is a commonly
used source of nitrogen. While it is often cheaper to use than other sources
of nitrogen, urea is known to cause Root Burn
on African Violets. The damage caused by Root Burn reduces an African Violet's
ability to properly absorb water and nutrients. The most obvious signs of
this are pale leaves and diminished flowering. Therefore, when selecting
a fertilizer suitable for African Violets, make sure that it does not contain
urea nitrogen. This can easily be determined by looking at the Guaranteed
Analysis on the fertilizer label. If urea nitrogen is used, it will be listed.
When choosing a Violet Food, make sure that it is 100 percent water soluble.
This is important for two reasons. First, if your Violet Food is not 100
percent water soluble, your African Violet may not be able to absorb all
its elements. Second, unless your Violet Food is 100 percent water soluble,
you cannot use it in a self-watering device. When using one of these devices,
elements will only be drawn into the soil if they are fully dissolved.
The primary nutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus
(P) and potassium (K), represent three of the 16 essential elements needed
by African Violets and other plants for normal growth and reproduction.
The other 13 essential elements are boron (B), calcium (Ca), carbon (C),
chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), hydrogen (H), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese
(Mn), molybdenum (Mo), oxygen (O), sulfur (S) and zinc (Zn). Of these, calcium,
magnesium and sulfur are sometimes referred to as secondary nutrients or
elements, while carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are often called the free elements,
since these are normally obtained from the air and water.
While not all of the essential elements are always listed on the label
of a Violet Food, they can generally be assumed to be either included with
the formula or available to African Violets in the form of air or water.
Each of the essential elements serves an important function. In the absence
of any one of these elements, an African Violet would not be able to grow
or reproduce properly. Of the primary elements, nitrogen is important for
overall growth and the development of green leaves and stems. Phosphorus
aids in the production of healthy roots and plays a vital role in the production
of flowers. Potassium is necessary for the accumulation and movement of
plant carbohydrates, those compounds which give the plant energy.
Of the secondary elements, calcium is important
for overall growth and the development of flowers. Magnesium is necessary
for the proper function of photosynthesis and the production of chlorophyll.
Sulfur plays an important role in the synthesis of proteins and helps boost
an African Violet's resistance to disease.
The free elements, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen,
are the components of plant carbohydrates which are produced during photosynthesis.
Of the remaining seven elements, boron is important for overall growth and
the development of flowers. Iron provides a catalyst in the production of
chlorophyll. Chlorine, copper, manganese, molybdenum and zinc all play an
important role in photosynthesis, while copper also helps to metabolize
nutrients into usable energy sources.
In addition to being classified into primary, secondary and free elements,
the essential elements are often described as either major
elements (sometimes called macronutrients) or micronutrients (sometimes
called minor elements). These classifications simply serve to make a distinction
between the relative amount that a plant needs of a particular element,
not that any of the essential elements are less important than any other.
Compared to the major elements, for instance, plants need micronutrients
in very small amounts. Altogether, there are nine major elements and seven
micronutrients. The major elements are calcium, carbon, hydrogen, magnesium,
nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur. The micronutrients are
boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc.
When discussing the elements that may go into
a Violet Food, it is important to make a distinction between micronutrients
and trace elements. These terms are often confused and mistakenly used interchangeably.
In fact, micronutrients are not the same as trace elements. Micronutrients
are essential elements; trace elements are not. However, while not considered
essential, many trace elements have been determined to provide a beneficial
effect to plants. Examples of trace elements, which may provide benefits
to African Violets, are cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), silicon (Si) and sodium
Violet Foods come in a variety of forms. Of
these, soluble powders and concentrated liquids are most often recommended.
Soluble powders are probably the most cost effective in that they do not
incur the additional cost associated with the weight of water which is added
to concentrated liquids. However, depending on your preferences, both can
offer benefits. In addition to being cost effective, soluble powders can
be easy to mix, especially when they are packaged in pre-measured pouches.
Concentrated liquids, on the other hand, can offer convenience when used
with a self-watering device. For instance, because it can be dispensed in
drops, Optimara Miniature Plant Food can be applied directly to a MiniWell
or WaterShip watering device. In either case, it is important to consider
the solubility of the fertilizer. Make sure that your Violet Food is a fully-dissolving
fertilizer, even when considering a concentrated liquid. Many make the mistake
of assuming that a concentrated liquid must be 100 percent water soluble
when, in fact, the accumulation of sediment at the bottom of the bottle
clearly suggests otherwise.
In most cases, quick-release fertilizers are
preferred to time-release fertilizers (also called slow-release or controlled-release
fertilizers). A quick-release fertilizer simply refers to a fertilizer in
which all the elements are immediately available to the plant. In contrast,
a time-release fertilizer describes a fertilizer in which all the elements
are not immediately available. This type of fertilizer is usually formulated
into coated granules called prill. While time-release fertilizers are designed
to reduce the frequency of application, they make it easy to overfertilize,
especially for those who do not have a lot of experience with them. In addition,
because the release of nutrients is influenced by various environmental
factors, the results can sometimes be unpredictable. Therefore, you are
strongly encouraged to avoid using any type of time-release fertilizer.
Instead, use a quick-release fertilizer which allows you to fertilize overtime
you water. This type of fertilizer will provide your African Violets with
a constant supply of the nutrients they need, while significantly reducing
the chances of overfertilizing.
Many people, who grow African Violets, are
ambivalent as to whether they should use an organic or non-organic fertilizer.
This is probably because the term "organic" is so often used in
a way that infers "natural." In contrast, anything else is assumed
to be "unnatural," i.e., a substance which has been synthesized
or somehow chemically manipulated. In fact, both organic and non-organic
fertilizers are quite natural. Whereas an organic fertilizer is derived
from plant or animal matter, a non-organic fertilizer is simply derived
from geological sources, i.e., naturally-occurring minerals. With experience
and patience, some growers have succeeded in producing good results with
organic fertilizers. However, organic fertilizers tend to be messier to
use and often smellier than non-organic fertilizers. Moreover, organic fertilizers
do not offer the convenience of non-organic fertilizers. This is because
an organic fertilizer, in order to provide all the elements that an African
Violet needs, is normally not obtained from one source, but from a combination
of sources, such as fish emulsion, manure and tankage (the by-products of
slaughtered animals). In addition, organic fertilizers are much more inefficient
and frequently less predictable than non-organic fertilizers. By volume,
it takes much more of an organic fertilizer to provide the same nutrients
that a non-organic fertilizer provides, and because concentrations of the
elements can vary widely in organic sources, they cannot provide nutrients
in consistent amounts. For these reasons, most growers of African Violets
choose non-organic fertilizers. While both are derived from "natural"
sources, non-organic fertilizers are easier to use, more efficient and provide
greater consistency in terms of both available nutrients and results.
One final consideration in regard to fertilizers is the issue of overfertilizing.
While African Violets need a certain amount of essential elements to grow
and reproduce, too much can be harmful. Among other problems, overfertilizing
can cause leaves to become cracked or brittle. It may also produce lesions
on the leaves and stems. In addition, an overload of certain elements will
actually stifle an African Violet's ability to absorb certain other elements.
For instance, an excess of magnesium may prevent an African Violet from
absorbing enough calcium. Likewise, an excess of either phosphorus or zinc
may prevent an African Violet from absorbing enough copper or iron, while
an excess of either calcium or magnesium may prevent an African Violet from
absorbing enough potassium. Such imbalances in the elements that are absorbed
by African Violets can cause a number of additional problems, such as droopy
or chlorotic leaves, leaf tip burn and diminished flowering.
To avoid overfertilizing and the problems associated with it, always
follow the instructions provided with your fertilizer. In addition, it is
important to drench the soil about four times a year (or about every three
months). This will wash away any excess fertilizer salts which have accumulated
in the soil, while restoring the proper balance of the elements that African
Violets need. To leach the soil, simply drench it with water until it has
become saturated, and then allow the excess water to drain completely. Finally,
if you are using a clay pot, you should routinely wipe the rim with a damp
cloth. When plants are overfertilized, excess fertilizer salts often accumulate
on the rim of clay pots. When these fertilizer salts come in contact with
leaves and stems, they can cause lesions.
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