Question: Should I ever remove leaves from my violet? I would guess so but, other than removing obviously dead ones, I have no idea how to decide. Which ones need to be removed?
Answer: Yes. Most (non trailing) varieties only need to have 3 or 4 rows of leaves since blooms are produced only from those leaves. This means a total of no more than a dozen or so leaves. Some larger plants grown for exhibition may have more but, even then, not as many as you might think. Their large size is due more to the size of the leaves rather than the number of them. For some varieties, especially those with very wavy, girl, or ruffled leaves, removing excess foliage is even more important. If out leaves are never removed on these varieties, new growth becomes very crowded in the center as there becomes no place for it to grow, and the leaves that are produced can be distorted or misshapen. Further, bloom stalks that are produced have a hard time finding their way up through the foliage.
How to decide which leaves to remove? Plant “symmetry” or “form” is important, but this is a concept that can be difficult for some to grasp (not everyone has an “eye” for this). Instead, here are a couple of never-fail, easy to understand rules that can be followed. Rule #1: always groom from the bottom up. The first leaf to be removed is always that leaf that is growing from the lowest point on the plant. Look at the plant from the side (not from the top), and determine which leaf is (or leaves are) growing from the lowest point. This is the oldest leaf on the plant and is the first to be removed. Now you can look at the plant from overhead. If it doesn’t have the shape that you want, remove another. Which one? Repeat rule #1. Rule #2: looking from above, leaves hidden beneath other leaves are unnecessary and can be removed (assuming twisted and out of place leaves have been properly arranged). These leaves are invariably older leaves, growing beneath younger ones, that add nothing to the symmetry of the plant. Removing them will not even be noticed, since leaves above them already occuply the same space!
Finally, be certain to remove leaves being produced from the axils between existing leaves–these are suckers! The only place where new growth should appear is from the crown, or top, of the plant (except on trailers). Removing suckers as soon as they appear not only improves symmetry and overall appearance, but it will encourage your plant to produce more flowers, sooner.
Question: You’ve told me that you can ship plant crowns into my country with no roots or soil. How can I successfully rot these?
Answer: For many countries, such as Russia, most in Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, it is not possible to send potted plants. Only cuttings, or the plant crowns (the top of the violet with all roots and soil removed), can be shipped. Surprisingly, this can be quite easily and successfully done. As soon as possible after receipt, root the crown much as you would a large sucker. Fill a small pot (2″ or 2 1/2″) with soil and moisten (wet, but not soggy). Make a small “divot”, or hole, in the surface center. Drop the crown into the hole and firm the soil around it. It’s important that the crown is in the soil firmly–it doesn’t easily “pop out” when you touch it. To do this, you might need to remove a few more leaves. If you can’t, press the crown as deep into the hole as possible. So long as the very tiny center of the plant isn’t totally buried, the plant will eventually grow out. After rooting the crown, place in a clear plastic container, like a sandwich bag or deli container, seal it, and wait about four weeks before removing. You’ll then have a small (rooted) plant. We’ve shipped thousands of plants this way to our international customers with much success.
Do the same if you’d like to root suckers, especially those taken from chimeras–those that you can’t propagate true from leaf cuttings. Or, do this if you’ve divided a multi-crowned plant, and some of these crowns ended up without roots. You might also want to intentionally remove and root a crown if you have received a plant you suspect may have soil-borne problems like soil mealybug (though doing so isn’t a foolproof solution), or if you have to “restart” a plant gone so long without repotting that its neck is too long to bury.
Question: I recently purchased a young Streptocarpus from you in a 2″ pot. It started blooming for me almost immediately in this small pot. The problem is, the plant itself hasn’t seemed to grow very much since I got it. Even though it’s blooming, am I doing something wrong?
Answer: Streptocarpus are one of the easiest to grow and most rewarding of all gesneriads you can grow. They can be very tolerant of neglect, and given the same conditions as African violets, will bloom almost constantly. We’ve grown streps that have been in bloom (or bud) every day for five years or more. Their readiness to bloom, though, can be a problem, especially for those varieties that are especially eager to flower. There are some varieties that bloom before they’ve “matured”–before much foliage has fully developed. When this happens, all of the plant’s energies are diverted away from foliage production and towards bloom production. This can result in some pretty odd-looking plants. Two examples are ‘Bristol’s X-ray Vision’ and ‘Bristol’s Sunset’, hybrids of ours that seem to want to bloom after having produced only one leaf in the pot. Left alone, they’ll sit there with one lonely leaf in a tiny pot and a full head of 6 or 8 flowers or more. Eventually, of course, they’ll bloom themselves out, leaving old, yet undeveloped, foliage that is unattractive and can barely sustain itself.
Our solution is to not allow these plants to bloom until they have produced enough foliage an matured enough to sustain both foliage and flowers. We simply cut off flower stems before they have a chance to develop. This forces the plant to produce more leaves, larger leaves, and produce them faster. When the plant is finally allowed to bloom, it will bloom even more heavily than it would have, had it not been disbudded. As a general rule, we don’t allow streps to bloom until we’ve potted them into 3″ pots. Except for the smaller growers, most varieties will eventually grow into 5″ (or larger) pots when fully mature.
We do the same for our violets, removing the first set of flower buds that appear. This allow the plant to develop more fully before first bloom. This means waiting a few more weeks, but it also means that when the plant does bloom, it produces a full head of bloom and a more developed plant. The plant is happier, and the reward is worth the wait.
Question: My Columnea are never as beautiful as yours. My conditions are good, but they always look weedy and don’t bloom very heavily. What am I doing differently?
Answer: Like violets and most other plants, Columnea nearly always bloom from the newest growth. This means that the more new, healthy growth there is, the more potential there is for blooming. Assuming that there is sufficient light and the culture is otherwise good, proper pruning is important in maximizing both foliage and blossom production. Treat columnea and other branching or vining gesneriads like Nematanthusand Aeschynanthus like you would a hedge. Why do you regularly trim a hedge? If you don’t, it just grows tall and spindly, and never has that dense, thick, lush look. Trimming it occasionally forces it to branch and produce new growth, filling in those empty spaces and giving it a full look.
Doing the same to your columnea has the same effect. Let each branch produce one or two new pairs of leaves, then cut the tips. This cut branch will then produce two (or more) branches which can, themselves, be cut when they’ve produced enough new growth. If done regularly, what began as relatively few cuttings in a pot can be made into a very full-looking plant with lots of new growth being produced. Once you achieve the “full” look that you desire, stop pruning and let the plant grow. Disciplining the plant’s growth early will reward you later.