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Saintpaulias — African
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! At a time in the not-so-distant past, the most favored houseplant was the philodendron. Close behind—but not by much—was the African violet, Saintpaulia. Now, however, the tables seem to have been turned, and the African violet, a relatively easy plant to care for, unquestionably tops the list!
Saintpaulia began its rise to glory when Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire discovered specimens in the African Usambara District back in 1892. Seeds (or was it plants?) were eventually sent to the Baron's father, an enthusiastic amateur botanist who cultured and later displayed them at the Ghent International Horticultural Exhibit. By 1936, Armacost and Royston, hybridizers in California, had developed ten varieties, several of which form the foundation of today's vast array of very spectacular hybrids.
Saintpaulia's rapid and widespread popularity is due in large part to the ease with which they can be propagated. Indeed, a leaf dropped into a glass of water or almost carelessly inserted into clean sand or peat moss will quickly root and produce several new plants, in every respect clones of the original. Seeds are also easy to germinate.
Mature, flowering plants may be purchased at just about any nursery, florist — even supermarkets, membership outlets and box-stores — but, if it were left to me, I'd get permission from a friend or relative to pinch a leaf or two from their mature plant. Here's the method of propagation which works for me:
LEAF CUTTINGS: At practically any time of the year (March or April would be best) remove a mature leaf, taking along all of the stem. Trim the stem with a clean, sharp knife to about one inch in length and insert it into moist peat moss or ProMix so the leaf blade is just even with the surface. A shallow nursery container about the size of your open hand could handle six or eight leaves. Moisten lightly, place the container in a clear poly bag and set it in light shade at about 65 to 70 degrees (F). Avoid over-watering. In about six weeks you should see small plantlets developing near the base of each leaf. Remove the plastic bag and maintain only slight moisture, and begin a once-a-week feeding with a balanced liquid at about 1/4 or less label-recommended strength.
After another three or four weeks, pot the little plantlets up singly in their own containers and treat them as grown-ups. You could also simply pop a leaf in a glass of water and get almost the same results...but not reliably—the chances of loss by rot is greater. Change the water occasionally to prevent stagnation, and don’t set the glass in full sun.
African violets are at their best when just a little root-bound, so start with a small pot and gradually, yearly, up-pot to the next larger size. Ours begin their independence in two-inch pots and blossom heavily during their second year after rooting, usually following their first-annual move to a new container.
Here are some tips to ensure success:
I received an email January 23, 2006, with the following question:
"I have an African Violet that is 20 years old. It is shrinking (its in a pot too large for it now) and over the years has sent out almost limbs over the edge of the pot. How can I successfully repot and salvage this plant. E."My response: There are two ways — both equally effective — to salvage and retain the original genetics of your "senior citizen" plant. You can snap off 2 or 3 of the healthiest mature leaves ... with a couple of inches of stem left on. Then you could drop them stem-first into a glass of water just deep enough to barely touch the actual leaf part. Change the water every 4 or 5 days (don't shock the poor things with icy water from the cold tap... adjust to room temperature, at least).
In 3 or 4 weeks, roots will form. When those roots get to be about an inch (minimum) long and looking really good, carefully pot them up into a good houseplant potting mix, in nothing over a 3" pot. In another 3 or 4 weeks small plants will appear around the stem. I like to leave at least 3 of those new little plantlets to grow into a thicker, nicer looking mature plant.
An alternative is to actually plant leaves in a small clean pot with fresh potting soil so about 1/4th of the leaf is below the surface. Eventually, small plantlets will appear. When they're a reasonable size and able to exist on their own, they could be taken out and divided into individual plants in their own pots. I like to allow at least 2 or 3 to grow together...it makes for a fuller plant. Yes...I know...the "experts" will shudder at that suggestion — but it works for me.
The other way is to remove one of the crowns (the part with leaves clustered at the end of your elongated stems), leaving about an inch or so of the stem. Remove the lower leaves and those with any damage until you have a compact plant maybe 3" or so across at the top. Pot up that entire cleaned-up plant into good potting mix (in a 3" pot) so the plant is nestled in just snug against the soil surface. If the stem's too long, allowing the leaf part of the plant to 'stick up' too far above the surface, snip a little more off. Keep it moist and in filtered (sheer curtains) bright light. It'll sprout a whole new set of roots and begin looking really good. (At first, just after potting, it'll look a little droopy. That's ok. Patience.)
You might check out African Violets—Restoring One for a few more details and step-by-step photos.
Rarely, an African Violet will, for no apparent reason, begin producing a combination of different leaf color (usually on their undersides) and flowers of an entirely different color... from the same plant. That process is called "mutation" or "sporting" and, If it happens to one of yours, rejoice! You've just added a brand new color to your collection. Maybe even an all-time first...though it's unlikely to be something that no one else in the gardening world has ever seen before.
Take careful note of the leaves from which the sport emerged, especially if they appear to be a slightly different color on the undersides. When one of those different leaves has fully matured, follow the directions for leaf-cuttings, above...and enjoy!
If you're really lucky, the parent violet will have produced a separate plant bearing the new color. In that case, once the flowers have faded, simply remove that new plant from its original pot and give it a new home in its own container. Remember...pick a pot that's just a tiny bit larger than its root mass.
Some Hints: Mature violets perform and bloom best in "tight shoes" (slightly root-bound)...that's why the small pots. And they don't like to be constantly wet (moist, yes...wet, no). Water thoroughly when the soil feels dry to the touch, letting the water freely run through drain holes in the process (that flushes out accumulated salts)...and allow it to go fairly dry before watering again. Never leave it to sit in a saucer of tray of water for more than a few minutes...it'll rot...and look miserable. Up-pot only when it gets really root-bound. If the stem has once again grown too long, slice off the bottom half of the root ball (after you've taken it out of the pot) so it'll go into the new (only 1" bigger) pot deeper. And don't forget to feed with a commercial African Violet fertilizer, or use what we use: Peter's Blossom Booster 10-30-20 — from any garden center and most farm 'n garden stores. Good Luck! And have a great time in your indoor garden!
question about African Violets...or wish to offer a suggestion or comment?
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