Chimera African violets

QuestionWhat is a “chimera”, and why are they so much more expensive?  Are they more difficult to grow?

Answer:  A chimera is a plant, due to its genetic make-up, which can be propagated only by suckers to produce an identical (in foliage and blossom) plant.  In the violet hobby, the term usually refers to varieties having pinwheel striped blossoms.  Identical blooming plants of these varieties can on be produced when propagated by suckers.  When done by leaf cuttings, the plants produced usually will bloom without the pinwheel pattern, and in a solid color.  Because propagation by sucker is more costly in terms of time and growing space, and produces fewer plants than by leaf cutting, commercial growers pass along these additional costs in the form of higher prices.  Once successfully propagated, these varieties are no more difficult to grow than are other varieties.

Repotting Violet with a ‘Neck’

QuestionI just acquired a violet from a relative that had not been repotted in quite some time.  As a result, it has developed a very long and twisted stem.  is it possible to get rid of this awful looking stem and save the plant?

Answer:  Yes.  Normally we eliminate a violet’s “neck” by repotting and covering it with fresh soil.  This is done by removing some of the old soil from the bottom of the root ball, lowering the plant in the pot (not necessarily a bigger pot), and adding fresh soil to the top of the pot, burying the neck.  Once covered with soil, the neck will eventually produce new roots.  If violets are repotted on a regular basis, about every 5-6 months, necks never have the chance to become long and twisted like the one described above.

When a neck becomes this long, repotting is no longer possible, since all, or nearly all, of the root ball would need to be removed to lower the plant enough in the pot to be able to bury the neck.  In this case, drastic measures need to be taken.  Remove all but the healthiest 4-6 leaves in the center of the plant.  Then cut away and discard the entire root ball and old soil, leaving only the fresh, center, growth and perhaps 1/4″ to 1/8″ of the stem.

Fill a 2 1/2″ or 3″ pot with moist soil.  Press the plant crown into the soil, being sure that its short remaining stem is firmly anchored.  Enclose in a clear plastic bag and place in a bright (not too bright or hot) location.  In about a month the plant will be rooted and can be removed from the bag–like new!

Symmetry: Remove Damaged Leaf?

QuestionIs it better to remove a damaged leaf, spoiling symmetry, or to keep it?

Answer:  If the plant is being exhibited, this is a judgment call.  points can be lost for both gaps in symmetry, and for damaged leaves.  If it is not a showplant, it becomes a trade-off between the appearance of the plant and the plant’s health.  When the leaf is basically healthy, but looks unattractive, this depends, again, on whether the gap is more of less unattractive than the leaf.  If the leaf is not healthy, it should be removed.  Only healthy leaves are helpful in processing energy and producing food for the plant.  Removing diseased and dying leaves also reduced the chances of spreading the problem of one leaf to other areas of the plant.  A clean, well-groomed plant is a healthier plant.

White Crust on Soil Surface

Question:  A white crust has appeared on the soil surface of my plants, as well as “brownish crystals” on the leaves in the center.  The crown of one plant has rotted.  I wick-water and use a soil mix containing one-third perlite. 

Answer:  These are some of the symptoms of a violet that is being kept too wet.  Though convenient, wicking is no better than any other method of watering.  Unless done properly, violets will be no better off than if watered by some other means.  Judging by the volume of phone calls we get, improper wick-watering practices is one of the most common problems among hobbyists.

As for the white crust on the soil surface, this is another disadvantage of wick, or other methods where water is supplied from the bottom of the pot.  When wicking, water is fed into the soil through the bottom of the pot via a wick, then works its way up to the top soil surface.  Because of this, anything in the water will also work its way to the soil surface and, if not consumed by the plant, remain there.  This crust is either (or both) excess fertilizer salts or minerals found in the water used.  Usually this is only unsightly but, if ignored, can become a problem, possibly burning and/or rotting off petioles or even the plant’s crown.  Because of this, it is a good practice to regularly repot plants to eliminate the excess minerals and salts with the old soil.  Occasional leaching of the soil is also recommended.  Top water plants thoroughly so that minerals and salts are washed through and out of the pot bottom.

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