Deformed Blossoms

QuestionSeveral of my violets have developed abnormal growth patterns.  Flowers are small, do not open fully, and/or are deformed.  Flower stalks are short.  Center growth is stunted, leaves are short and not fully developed.  Centers are not gray, but some leaves have splotches or varied shades of green.  The flowers are the main problem.  I do have thrips.  Could they be causing the damage?

Answer:  It’s likely that they are.  Thrips can deform blossoms, mark them, and lead to them fading or dropping prematurely.  Though they prefer, and are most easily seen on the blossoms, they spend a good deal of their life on other parts of the plant and will migrate there when the blossoms are removed.  This is one reason why thrips can be so difficult to deal with.  Removing the infected blossoms is necessary to control them but, when this is done, other symptoms can arise elsewhere. 

We’ve found that when we’ve disbudded violets with a know infestation, the plant can exhibit the symptoms described by this grower.  Thrips will feed on the foliage, leaving small, brown, “freckles”.  The center growth also may not develop normally which, in extreme cases, might lead one to falsely believe they are dealing with a cyclamen mite infestation.  Infected leaves might also become more brittle and curl around the edges.

Remedies for Suckers

QuestionWhat’s the best remedy for suckers?

Answer:  A simple question with a simple answer–blooming!  A sucker, of course, is an extra growing point (crown), usually appearing as a pair (or pairs) or leaves within the leaf axils beneath the original growing point in the uppermost, center of the plant.  Unless this is a trailing variety, on which extra crowns should be encouraged, or a species violet, which you can choose to grow multiple crowned, these suckers should be removed at first sight.  Allowing them to develop not only distorts the symmetry of the plant, but will also delay and/or discourage production of buds and blooms.

Your violet produces suckers as a means of reproducing itself.  If unchecked, those suckers will eventually grow into entirely new plants, leaving you with a multiple-crowned plant that will then need dividing.  True, it may continue to sporadically bloom, but it will bloom much more if not allowed to sucker.  Why?  By not allowing your plant to reproduce vegetatively, it must try to reproduce itself sexually by flowering.  It will bloom earlier and more, if not allowed to sucker.  In our experience, varieties that seem to sucker the most when young also seem to bloom the most once suckers are removed.  ‘Rob’s Jitterbug’, is an excellent example.  It is a terrific propagator, producing lots of plants, very quickly, from a rooted leaf.  Once potted, it grows quickly–and produces lots of suckers!  Once they are removed, however, it will produce lots and lots of bloom, continuously, without producing another sucker.  It doesn’t need to, since it’s much too busy blooming!  The moral?  Suckering can be a good thing, so long as they are removed in a timely way.  It’s evidence of a vigorous plant with a strong survival instinct.  You only need to tell it how!

Algae in water

QuestionIs there any way that I can keep the water in my wicking reservoir from turning green with algae?

Answer:  Since the algae won’t grow in the dark, one solution is to use a dark, light-blocking, reservoir.  Another is to add about 1/4 teaspoon of Physan 20 for every gallon of water.  Physan 20 is a popular, easy, and relatively safe to use algaecide.  About once every three weeks, we add it to our water to deep our capillary mats from turning green–it works wonders and, because it’s als a bactericide and fungicide, it’s a good preventative measure against more serious problems.  We’ve also learned to use dark colored, acrylic, blankets (they can be hard to find), since algae is less likely to grow on dark surfaces and, when it does, is less visible.

Crowded Center growth

Question:  All of my violets are showing very crowded centers.  The center leaves are small and bunched together.  I’m worried that I might have mites.  Is that likely?

Answer:  Probably not.  It’s more likely that these were the symptoms of too much light and, to a lesser degree, too much fertilizer.  This grower had her violets under artificial lights–4 florescent tubes above each 2’x2′ shelf, less than a foot above the plants.  The lights were kept on for 12 hours per day.  This amount of light is far too much for most varieties of African violets, about twice as much as they need.  Two tubes, about 10-12″ above miniature violets, and 15-18″ above standard-size violets, for 12-13 hours a day, would be sufficient for healthy growth and good blooming.

This grower also used “Oyama” pots and fertilized at the full, recommended dosage for regular, periodic, watering (i.e. “if you feed every time you water, use this amount…..”).  This type of pot is part of a constant-watering system where an inner pot, with a “slotted” bottom is placed inside an outer water-holding pot.  Of course, this not only provides water to the plant at all times, but also fertilizer.  Because the plant processes a greater volume of water when using this kind of pot, it will also process a greater volume of fertilizer.  For this reason, fertilizer dilution should be cut to perhaps 1/3 or 1/4 of the regular amount, which hadn’t been done in this case.  The same would be true for any constant-watering system, such as “wick” watering or the use of self-watering “violet pots”.

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