The Violet Barn

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionI know very little about African violets, so this question might seem silly.  Recently, I started a plant from a normal-looking, green, leaf.  When the plantlet appeared, all of its leaves were white in color.  How common is an African violet with white leaves?

Answer:  This isn't a silly question at all, especially from someone still new to our hobby.  A violet with white in its leaves is called 'variegated'.  Depending upon the variety, the amount of variegation can be scarcely visible or may be so great as to make a leaf nearly entirely white.  Unfortunately, many of these varieties can lose their variegation as they age, or when grown under warm conditions.  I suspect that the leaf that you rooted was taken from a plant that was originally variegated but had lost its variegation and turned green.  Genetically, however, that leaf is still variegated and will produce variegated plantlets when used for propagation.  In fact, it's usually wise to use the "greener" leaves of a variegated variety for propagation, since these leaves are often more vigorous than the very white ones from the same plant and will produce more plantlets more quickly.  These white plantlets will likely also eventually turn green if grown under the same conditions as the original.

Question I'd like to know why some of my violets grow by spreading out and others are growing upright like trees.  These drop their bottom leaves and grow taller.  Is there anything that I need to do to look after them?

Answer:  There are a few possibilities.  If "spreading out" means that the plant is becoming wider by producing more crowns and leaves, there are two possible reasons.  The first is that the violet has been allowed to develop more than one crown (growing point in the center of leaves).  This happens when "suckers"--the small, secondary crowns growing from the leaf axils, are not removed and are allowed to develop into larger crowns.  If this is the case, divide the plant so that each of the new plants has only one crown.  Pot each of these plants separately into their own pots.  In the future, remove suckers as soon as it becomes obvious that they are not blossom buds.  The plant will bloom better and grow more attractively if this is done on a regular basis.  The other possibility is that the violet is a "trailing" variety, that, by its nature, freely produces additional crowns.  The difference is that trailing varieties produce additional crowns without harming blooming potential or the display of foliage.  Most good trailing varieties will produce this growth in the form of "runners" that often have a vine-like or crawling habit.  The additional crowns on trailing varieties need not be removed.

As for those violets growing "upright like trees", this is usually the result of not repotting frequently enough.  Violets are no different than other plants--as new leaves are produced, older leaves are lost.  As the older, lower, leaves are removed, a "neck" (bare stem) develops over time.  If they are not repotted on a regular basis, the neck will become more and more visible.  Nearly all violets should be repotted about twice a year.  Repotting doesn't necessarily mean a bigger pot!  Use only a pot the size of the plant's root system, and not larger.  Repotting means removing some of the older soil (and a few roots), lowering the plant in its pot, and adding fresh soil, in the process burying the neck.  The lowest row of leaves on the repotted violet should lay flat on top of the pot rim.  Don't worry about "shocking" the plant--if repotting is done regularly, then not much of a neck will need to be buried and not much of the old soil needs to be removed, so that your violet will barely notice that anything's been done to it.

QuestionI have some violets as well as a few orchids.  My problem is aphids, which I think came in on some mini roses from a local nursery.  I'd like to get some more violets, but I'd like to get rid of this problem first.

Answer:  Aphids aren't usually a common problem in violets, though they have been known to appear in a collection on a rare occasion, usually when brought in on another plant.  They are usually light green, sometimes black, and have soft, pear-shaped bodies that are easily visible to the naked eye.  They usually can be seen on the undersides of leaves or on blossom stems, where the plant tissue is softer and more vulnerable.  Because they are easily visible, they can usually be easily eliminated with quick treatment of the affected plants.

Only twice (in over 25 years) have we found aphids in our violet collection.  In one instance, they came in on some newly acquired orchids and were quickly eliminated by spraying the affected plants with Knox-Out at the recommended dilution.  One thorough spraying did the trick.  There are a number of insecticides that can be effective on aphids--malathion, diazanon, or many pyrethrin spays.  As always with such chemicals, read the label, and follow all of the usual precautions to protect yourself from exposure.  In the second instance, we found large numbers of aphids on a number of Streptocarpus plants that we had purchased at a show.  In this case, the numbers were too many, and the plants not valuable enough, so we simply tossed all of the affected plants into the compost pile.  They could have been saved, but doing so wasn't worth the time and wasn't worth the risk to our health.

QuestionThe crown of my plant stops growing and divides into 3-4 little sucker-crowns.  The plant seems to be dividing at the crown and I can't seem to distinguish which one is the true crown.  I had a plant do this previously, and when the two crowns were large enough, I split them and got two plants.

Answer:  "Crown-suckers" can be especially disfiguring, since identifying the true crown, as well as their removal, can be difficult.  Their cause can be either cultural or genetic.  An African violet will often sucker when subjected to stress--it's a means of survival.  Extreme heat, overfertilization, a toxic reaction to chemicals, and disbudding are a few of the possible causes.  In each case, the plant tries to survive by vegetatively reproducing itself through suckering.  In many other cases, unfortunately, this habit is genetic.  These varieties will tend to crown-sucker more often than others, especially when subjected to stressful conditions.  An example is an older variety of ours, 'Rob's April Storm' which, though beautiful, would always seem to do this at the worst of times (like when grown for show).  Even different plants grown from leaf cuttings would tend to do this eventually (the trait being genetic).

The best recommendation would be to provide good culture, minimizing stress, and to avoid growing varieties with this habit (which can be hard to know before the fact).  Propagate only from plants of this variety that tend not to have this habit.  Once crown-suckers begin to form, carefully remove them, if this can be done, to allow only one crown to develop, or let each crown grow to a size large enough where they can be divided into separate plants, as was done by this grower.

QuestionI've heard that it's difficult to propagate a variegated leaf if it is mostly white.  Is there anything that can be done to help or encourage the leaf to propagate more easily?

Answer:  Heavily variegated leaves can often be more difficult to successfully propagate, though some varieties are prolific propagators.  The best advice is to first select leaves from these plants that show as little variegation as possible--i.e. are the most green.  A variegated variety will produce variegated plants from leaf cuttings, even if the leaf rooted is green.  We've also found that it helps not to keep the rooting mix too wet.  Heavily variegated plantlets are much more susceptible to rotting than are green-leaved ones.  The plantlets produced will also be sturdier, and more likely to survive their initial separation and potting.  Don't pot up plantlets that are entirely white, since they won't survive--wait for them the green-up a bit.  It also helps to fertilize with a formula that has sufficient nitrogen, particularly when plantlets are young and/or heavily variegated.  Warm, but not hot, conditions will also encourage the young plantlets to grow "greener".

Question:  Seemingly overnight, two of my repotted plants leaves have turned a light yellowish-green in the center growth.

Answer:  When we got this question, we immediately thought back to one of our local club meetings the week before.  A member brought in a "problem plant", whose outer rows of leaves were its usual shade of green, but whose center rows were nearly yellow-green.  Just by chance, this was "soil test" night, where members can have the pH of their soil tested.  Her soil tested at a pH of 5.4, very acidic, and far below the optimum (about 6.8, where 7.0 is neutral).  When this was pointed out to her, she then told us that she had recently repotted a number of plants into a commercially sold soil mix bought at a local department store.  There couldn't have been a better example of the consequences of too low (or high) a pH if we had planned such a a program!

When pH is too low (acid) or too high (alkaline), many of the nutrients become "locked up" and can't be used by the plant.  Even with proper fertilization, plant roots are unable to take-up important nutrients and, simply put, the plant "starves".  The result is the yellowish foliage growth that appeared once the overly-acid soil mix was used by this grower.  The consequence of too high a pH can be the same.  This is a problem for those of us with very hard, alkaline, water.  For example, our water usually tests at a pH of 7.4 or higher.  To correct for this, we simply add enough vinegar so that the pH is as close to neutral (7.0) as possible.  For our showplants, we use "distilled" water that we collect from our dehumidifier (in the winter) or our air conditioner (in the summer).

Acidic water is a less-common problem.  Rain water can be quite acidic for some.  One product that we know of is "pH up" a product of Dyna-Gro.  This is a fertilizer supplement (a formula of 0-0-8) that raises water pH.  A supplement of "pH down" is also available (a 1-5-0 formula) and we have heard positive comments--if vinegar isn't for you.  We have also heard of some growers using products available at tropical fish stores to correct for this.

QuestionHow long do African violets bloom?

Answer:  This all depends upon environment, the variety being grown, and your care.  Individual blooms can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.  Varieties producing thicker petals and those with green in the bloom tend to last longer.  Blooms will last longer under moderate to high humidity with cooler temperatures (say 60-75f degrees).  With cooler temperatures, blooms will also tend to be larger and colors more intense.  Once blooms fade or become "spent", remove them, since their decay would likely shorten the life of adjacent blooms.

As for how long and African violet will have at least some bloom (the length of the blooming "cyle", so to speak), this will also depend greatly upon the environment, care, and variety.  Given a good environmen, and with proper care, most modern hybrids can be kept in almost continual bloom, once they mature.  Most importantly, your violet will need good, consistent, light.  This is hard to achieve growing in windows, since the amount of natural light the plant receives varies so greatly from season to season and window to window.  Under artificial light, which can be controlled, African violets can bloom nearly constantly with proper care. 

QuestionIs it true that if you don't allow an African violet to bloom for a while by clipping the blooms as soon as they appear, that in a few months the plant will explode with blooms?  I have noticed that the leaves are getting thicker.  The leaves look very healthy.

Answer:  Yes.  This is what most of the best exhibitors do when growing plants for show.  By "disbudding", the plant is not allowed to bloom and all of its energy goes into producing foliage.  The result is a very healty, vigorous, plant.  Standards will tend to produce larger leaves.  Miniature and semiminiature varieties will remain so, but leaves will become more thick and lush, with better color.  When finally allowed to bloom, it can now ustain a much greater amount of bloom.  Since the new bloom is generally produced only from the newest growth (usually the first few rows of leaves), there may not be a significant increase in the number of bloom stalks.  There will, however, be a greater number of blooms per stalk, and likely larger flowers, than had the plant not been disbudded earlier.

QuestionHow to I get Columnea 'Light Prince' to be full?  I have a pot from a previous order that actually has some buds, but is long and 'spindly'.

Answer:  C. 'Light Prince' is a beautiful plant, and can bloom quite heavily, but it tends to be more seasonal in nature than some of the othe Columnea.  We find that it blooms best in spring, when nights are still a bit cool but days are getting longer and brighter.  It will bloom other times of year, but never as heavily or as well.  As for keeping it "full" looking, you'llneed to get in the habit of occasionally trimming or "pinching" the tips of stems.  This will encourage the plant to branch and produce new growth.  If not done, individual stems won't tend to branch on their own and will just keep getting longer and longer.  Most plants, columnea included, tend to produce bloom from the newest growth, which means that there's no point in trimming the plant back now, when you have buds appearing.  As soon as those blooms disappear, though, trim your plant back and let it fill out with new growth.  Next time, you'llhave a fuller plant, with more stems, more new growth, and even more blooms!

QuestionI have a Sinningia that is getting a bit tall.  I raise Kohleria as well, so when they get long, I cut the top of the plant off at a leaf node and stick it back into moist soil.  No problems.  Can I do this with this Sinningia?

Answer:  Yes.  You can treat it the same was as a Kohleria, or as an African violet with an extremely long "neck", for that matter.  Kohlerias are much easier to reroot, however.  Sinningias don't root quite as readily, depending on how old, and woody, the growth is.  You might want to place your pot with the rooting cutting in a clear, covered, container or in a plastic bag for a few weeks, until its rooted.  In addition, since Sinningias are tuberous, the tuber should sprout a new plant (like a potato), especially if wait to see the beginnings of a new sprout before removing the old growth.