Getting Episcias to Bloom

Question:  I love Episcias.  Mine seem to grow really well.  They produce lots of leaves and look healthy, but never seem to bloom.  Are they difficult plants to get to bloom, or am I doing something wrong?

Answer:  Most people think that episcias are difficult plants to get to bloom.  Even the best growers often have problems getting them to bloom well–it seems that most episcias seen in shows are in thenonblooming classes.  This is unfortunate, since they are actually very free and constant-flowering plants.  Yes, there leaves alone are usually beautiful enough, but why not have the leaves and the bloom?  The secret is not allowing them to produce too many stolons, or runners.  A few of the species can be stubborn, but most varieties can be kept in almost constant heavy bloom with good culture and regular pruning.

The basic logic is simple.  All plants have two means of reproduction.  They can either do this vegetatively by producing suckers, rhizomes, tubers or, in the case of episcia, stolons.  These stolons can be rooted, producing additional plants and, so long as it can successfully reproduce itself this way, it will continue to produce them and not bother to flower.  The plant will try to reproduce itself sexually, producing flowers that might be pollinated and produce see, only if other, easier, means of reproduction aren’t possible.  The lesson: lots of stolons means few flowers.  This shouldn’t be surprising, since we’ve all been trained to remove “suckers” (the small crowns growing beneath the leaves) from our violets.  Doing so not only improves appearance, but encourages the plant to bloom.  Also, mature violets that have begun to bloom tend to produce far fewer suckers than immature plants that have yet to bloom.  Your violet has to, if it wants to produce more or its kind.  Exhibitors also know that violets that are disbudded (not allowed to bloom) tend to sucker more–trying to reproduce vegetatively since it’s not being allowed to sexually.

Apply the same rules to your episcias that you apply to your violets.  Here’s what we do, and we always have lots of episcias  in bloom–always let the crown mature and set buds before allowing stolons to grow.  For a young plant, this means growing it as a single crown until you see flower buds.  At this point, you can allow the plant to produce stolons.  Let each of these (secondary) crowns mature and produce buds before you let them produce even more stolons, and so on.  If this is done, you eventually can have a large plant, with lots of fully-developed crowns, each producing lots of blooms.  Few things are more spectacular than a mature, well-grown episcia in full bloom.

Common Versus Botanical Names

Question:  Do you grow “gold fish plants” or “lipstick vines”?

Answer:  We do, but that’s not the reason we’ve chose this question to answer.  This is a very frequently asked question, both at the shop and by those calling us.  We’ve chose this to illustrate the importance of using the botanical names of plants.  It’s true that we don’t follow this rule when we call a Saintpaulia by its common name, African violet.  Fortunately, “African violet” is so commonly used and so universally understood to identify Saintpaulia, that there’s almost never any confusion about what one is referring to.  Unfortunately, this is often not the case when referring to other members of the gesneriad family.

What one may see identified as a “goldfish plant” at one garden center is identified differently at another.  Keep in mind that most retailers are interested in selling you plants, not educating.  It’s quite likely that few of those working at the garden center of “X-Mart” even know what they are selling, common name or otherwise.  They realize that common names are far less intimidating and more consumer-friendly than botanical names.  Unfortunately, often because they don’t know any better (or care), there is no real effort to use the same common name on the same plants sold by different retailers.  What you saw identified as a “goldfish plant” at one retailer may have been labeled a “dolphin plant” at another (only yesterday a customer at the shop had this very problem).  Why not simply call the plant a Columnea, the correct botanical name of what most likely is being referred to?  A Columnea, is always a Columnea (pronounced “koe-lum-nee-ah”)–but sometimes a “goldfish plant” is actually something else, like a Nematanthus orAeschynanthus, two other gesneriads usually grown as basket plants and with blooms of the same colors.

Yes, some botanical names can seem a bit intimidating at first, but using them ensures that you get the plant that you are looking for, not what the seller guesses you are looking for.  Besides, when you think about it, are they really any harder to pronounce than the names of some people you know, or things like “cellular” phones or “flourescent” lights, words that you probably say without hesitation?

Can I Repot When Plant is Blooming?

Question:  I suspect that it’s time to repot my violet, since it has an ugly trunk and it’s been a long time since I last did this.  I’m afraid to though, since it’s still blooming and I don’t want to lose the flowers.  Is there a best time to repot?

Answer:  The best time to do anything is when it needs to be done.  This means repotting your violet into fresh soil on a regular basis, when a “neck” begins to appear and is easy to remedy.  Usually this means about twice a year.  If done this often, the neck will not be very long or visible and will be easy to bury.  This is done by removing some old soil (and roots) from the bottom of the rootball, lowering the plant in the pot, and then adding fresh soil around the top to cover the neck.  If this is done regularly, then not much of the root system needs to be removed, so that the plant won’t suffer from the shock of repotting–it will barely even know what you’ve done to it.  It should continue to bloom as it had before.  Don’t feel squeamish about removing a few of the old, outer, leaves.  These likely have already produced flowers and won’t do so again.  Concentrate on maintaining  the new, healthy, growth.  It is this growth that will be producing your flowers now and in the future.  Regularly freshening the soil encourages new root growth, which then can support new foliage growth and blooms.

Should you let the neck grow too long, then more of the root system will need to be removed and wit will more likely suffer from the stress of repotting–and may not bloom as well for awhile.  Things done regularly, in small doses, are better than drastic measures done late.

Miniature Violets Not Blooming in Windows

Question:  I grow all of my violets in windows.  My standards do well, but I can’t seem to get my miniatures to bloom.  Any explanation?

Answer:  Most of today’s miniature varieties bloom just as well, or better, than do the standards.  Miniatures do seem to prefer a bit more light than do standards, though most will bloom under the same conditions.  For example, our miniatures are grown 10-12″ below two florescent bulbs (used 13 hours a day), while the standards are 18″ below the bulbs.  When growing in windows, this means that plants should be arranged in a way so that miniatures receive more light than standards.

I believe the reason this is a common complaint among those growing both minis and standard varieties in windows is because minis often receive less light, rather than more.  Space is always limited in a window, especially for those of us who always grow more plants than we have room for.  Minis, because they are smaller, usually end up being placed between or beneath the larger plants around them.  Also, plants are usually arranged so that they can be viewed from the interior of the room, not viewed from outside through the window.  This means that small plants are placed in “front” closer to the room (and farther from the window), with the larger, taller, plants in the “rear”.  This is an attractive arrangement, but one that means the small plants in front are being shaded by the larger plants nearer the window.  Is it any wonder that minis don’t bloom as well as their larger neighbors?  They’re always placed in the worst possible light!  Remember, just because they’re small doesn’t mean they should be hidden or neglected–give them the same light and care as your bigger varieties and they’ll perform just as well.

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