Quick Care Links:
• Temperature and Air Quality
• Fertilizer and Plant Nutrition
• Potting Soil
• Pests and Disease
• Promoting Optimal Growth
and Symmetry •
As with other plants, African Violets can fall victim to a number of
pests and pathogens. In almost all cases, preventing them is easier than
As discussed above, one important method of prevention is to simply disinfect
pots and potting soil before using. The same can be said for any tools which
you may use when working with your African Violets. Disinfect tools by soaking
them in a 10 percent bleach solution, i.e., one part bleach to nine parts
water. This is especially important when you have been using your tools
outside or on other plants. Likewise, always wash your hands before handling
your African Violets. And if you have been working outside, change your
clothes. Many pests are known to become trapped in clothing until they have
the opportunity to attack indoor plants. In addition, always keep your growing
area clean. Be on the look out for food sources which may attract insects
and other pests to your Violets. You should also remove any spent flowers
or leaves which may accumulate in or around your pots. Many pests either
feed on or take refuge beneath decaying plant matter. As spent flowers and
leaves decompose, they can also attract fungi such as Botrytis and Pythium.
For this reason, do not allow leaves and flowers, which have become dark
and mushy, to remain on your plants.
Because certain pathogens seem to thrive in very moist conditions, it
is important to make sure your African Violets are not receiving too much
water, and whenever possible, avoid watering from the top. The easiest way
to do this is to use a self-watering
device which waters from the bottom. There are a number of self-watering
devices which are made specifically for African Violets. These devices use
one of two bottom-watering methods to provide African Violets with the correct
amount of water. Both the MiniWell (for 1-inch pot sizes) and the MaxiWell
(for 4-inch pot sizes) use capillary wicking to draw water from a well into
the soil. A similar device is the Optimara WaterShip (for 2-inch pot sizes)
which has the added benefit of being spill-proof. A different type of self-watering
device is the Watermaid. Instead of using wicks, the Watermaid employs capillary
matting to draw water from the included saucer. Because it uses capillary
matting, the Watermaid also helps to increase the level of humidity around
your African Violets. In addition, the Watermaid accommodates many different
pot sizes up to 5-1/2 inches. By providing African Violets with the correct
amount of water, any of the above products will help eliminate the conditions
in which deadly fungi thrive. They also provide a level of convenience since
they can supply enough water for up to two weeks.
Another way to prevent overwatering is to make sure your African Violets
are planted in the correct type of pot and that the pot size is not too
large. Always use a slightly shallow pot, such as an Azalea pot. A standard
pot is too deep for African Violets. When planted in a standard pot, an
African Violet's roots will not reach the bottom. As a result, the soil
remains overly moist. For the same reason, you should never allow an African
Violet to remain in a pot that is too large for it. African Violets perform
best and are less susceptible to disease when their roots fit snugly into
Stick to a consistent watering schedule, and do not let the soil dry
out completely before watering. Repeated, sudden changes in the availability
of water can cause the same effects as overwatering. If you water from the
top, always allow excess water to drain. If you suspect that excess water
is not draining completely, you should either repot into a container that
provides adequate drainage or add holes to your current pot. When repotting,
always use a potting soil that is specifically made for African Violets.
A good potting soil will be very light and porous. Ideally, it will be made
from block-harvested, sphagnum peat moss. It may also have perlite or expanded
polystyrene added to increase the porosity.
Always maintain good air circulation around your plants. One disease
which flourishes in conditions of poor air circulation is Botrytis. Botrytis
is a fungus which grows rapidly. It causes damage which will leave your
African Violets disfigured. Another fungus which attacks African Violets,
during conditions of poor air circulation, is Crown Rot. This is especially
the case when poor air circulation is accompanied by overwatering. In almost
all instances, Crown Rot is fatal.
Avoid extreme changes in temperature. In addition to the possibility
of shock, sudden temperature changes leave African Violets vulnerable to
Be vigilant to the presence of any moths or other insects which may have
entered your home. While many adult insects do not feed on African Violets,
their larvae do. This is the case with moths. Their offspring are caterpillars,
many of which will devour the leaves of African Violets.
When repotting, consider adding Diatomaceous Earth to your potting soil.
Diatomaceous Earth is a fully inert, non-volatile substance which has proven
effective in fending off certain soil-borne pests, such as Soil Mealy Bugs.
It is made from the skeletal remains of diatoms, a microscopic form of algae.
When processed into Diatomaceous Earth, these skeletal remains form razor-sharp
particles which cut into the soft bodies of small insects. While neutralizing
the insects, Diatomaceous Earth does not harm African Violets. The recommended
ratio is 1/4 tablespoon of Diatomaceous Earth for every one liter of soil.
Other soil amendments you may want to consider are seaweed and humic
acids. These natural amendments have been shown to reduce the incidence
of Root Nematodes.
If you suspect that an African Violet is being affected by pests or disease,
your first step is to isolate it. This will prevent other plants from becoming
affected. Your next step is to determine what the cause is.
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In addition to practicing good cultural habits, as described above, there
are a number of ways you can enhance the aesthetic value of your African
To grow extra large African Violets, there are two important things you
will want to do. First, make sure your African Violet does not become rootbound.
While African Violets thrive when their roots fit snugly into their pots,
they also need room for new roots if they are to continue growing. Next, you will have to start disbudding. While this may
sound torturous to many African Violet enthusiasts, it is the secret to
rapid growth. Because blooming takes up so much energy, removing buds allows
an African Violet to divert additional nutrients to the development of new
roots and leaves. Of course, while total disbudding will give you maximum
results, partial disbudding can be used to balance growth with at least
some flowering. To disbud, use a sharp knife to remove the bud and as much
of the peduncle as possible.
To get you started on the path to really big African Violets, you may
want to consider some of the varieties which have been developed for larger
growth. The Optimara World Traveler series, for instance, has several extra
large varieties which will give you a head start.
The symmetrical growth habit of African Violets is an integral factor
of their distinctive beauty. The perfection of this symmetry can be accomplished
by helping your African Violet to grow straight and strong petioles (leaf
stems). First, it is important to rotate your African Violet so that all
sides of the plant receive equal amounts of light. In general, this should
be done once a week or every time you water. If you do not rotate your African
Violet, it will become larger on the side closest to its source of light,
while the other leaves, in an effort to receive more light, will begin to
curl in various directions.
In addition to rotating your plants, you will need to provide support
to the leaves of your African Violet. This can be done in two ways. The
first method requires the use of leaf support
rings. These are plastic rings which fit onto the pots of African Violets.
They are available in various sizes to fit most any African Violet. The
easiest way to get leaf support rings is by mail order. You can find ads
for them in most issues of African Violet Magazine, a bi-monthly publication
issued by the African Violet Society of America.
The second method for giving leaf support
to your African Violet is called double-potting. With double-potting, a
second and larger pot is used to provide leaf support. Once your African
Violet and its current pot are placed into the second pot, the leaves have
something on which to rest. When doing this, you may need to prop up the
inner pot, since it will probably be shorter than the outer pot. However,
keep in mind that double-potting does not necessarily require another pot.
Any circular container will do. It can even be decorative.
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A good grooming routine is important. It will help keep your African
Violets looking beautiful as well as keeping them healthy. When done on
a regular basis, grooming takes very little time.
To maintain a consistent routine, many recommend grooming your African
Violets as part of your regular watering schedule. After you have watered,
make sure to wipe off any water which has spilled on the leaves. This serves
several purposes. First, most water has at least some dissolved minerals
in it. If water is left on the leaves, these minerals will form a powdery,
white residue in the form of spots or streaks. While this residue can easily
be removed using a damp cloth, it is easier to prevent them by wiping up
the water before it evaporates.
Second, water on the leaves can cause brown spots to develop. These spots
may be caused by water which is too cold, or they may be the result of sunlight
which has been magnified by the water. In either case, the spots are actually
damaged tissue and, therefore, cannot be removed.
Third, excessive moisture on the leaves can promote the growth of fungi.
Some of these fungi, such as Crown Rot or Pythium, are particularly deadly.
For this reason, be particularly vigilant to any water which may remain
on the leaves of the crown.
As you are wiping off the leaves, take the opportunity to look for potting
soil or other debris which may have accumulated on the leaves. Dust and
dirt can be wiped clean with a soft, damp cloth. For other debris, you may
want to use a soft-bristled brush, such as a small paint brush. Note, however,
that any brush of this kind should be reserved exclusively for use on your
plants. Do not use the same brush on your plants as you would for painting.
Next, inspect your African Violets for spent leaves and flowers. Also,
keep your eyes out for leaves and flowers which are damaged. Both should
be removed with a sharp knife. Spent leaves and flowers encourage rot which,
under the right conditions, can spread to healthy parts of your African
Violets. Damaged leaves and flowers leave your African Violets vulnerable
to bacterial diseases, viruses and other micro organisms, such as Nematodes.
While grooming your African Violets, be on
the look out for suckers. If you are trying to maintain the symmetry of
a single-crowned plant, suckers should be removed as soon as you see them.
Otherwise, suckers will develop into new crowns.
Finally, your grooming routine should always include an inspection for
insects and other pests. Often, the pests themselves will be clearly visible.
Even if you do not see them, however, most pests will leave symptoms. The
appearance of any unusual characteristic, on your African Violets, should
be cause for further investigation. Remember that insects and other pests
are easier to treat when their presence is recognized early.
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