Stolon growth and blooming

Question:  Chirita ‘Vietnam’ (usbrg #98-083) grows very well for me, but I’ve never been able to get it to bloom.  Perhaps it’s just a poor bloomer.  Is that true?

Answer:  This was a comment overheard in a showroom last fall.  We’ve seen this particular plant more than once in shows, and it always looks terrific, with perfectly symmetrical rows of pointed, fuzzy, leaves and, usually, attractive stolons displayed around the main plant bearing those same leaves.  Like this exhibitor, we’ve never seen one shown in bloom.  From personal experience, however, we know much differently–it’s a very easy and free bloomer.  Most all of the chiritas are.

The secret, as it is for any gesneriad that produces stolons, is to remove the stolons!  We’ve grown this particular plant both with, and without, stolons.   Those grown without stolons are almost always in bud or bloom.  Those allowed to produce stolons almost never flower.    Episcias are another gesneriad that usually are not seen exhibited in bloom, and many growers have difficulty getting them to bloom heavily.  Because they have such beautiful leaves, and are such vigorous plants, most growers don’t bother to groom them properly.  Most swill bloom heavily, and regularly, if their growth is controlled properly.  This is what we do.  First, remove all stolons until the main crown fully matures and begins to produce flower buds.  Then, allow the first set of stolons to mature and produce buds before allowing those stolons to produces stolons, and so on.  By doing this, you will have a full plant with many large, fully developed, crowns, each producing bloom. 

Variegation and fertilizer

Question:  Most of my collection of violets at home have very light leaves, almost white.  They aren’t variegated, and they were all green-leaved when I first got them. 

Answer:  A question we were posed by a visitor to our shop.  She claimed to be an “experienced” grower and mentioned this more as a curiosity than as a problem.  At first, we thought that she was talking about the reappearance of variegation and, given her description, likely heavy crown variegation.  We figured that she might have gotten the plants during the summer, when the warm temperatures may have caused the variegation to disappear.  With the onset of cooler weather, perhaps the variegation was returning.  This wasn’t the case.

After talking some more, we realized that by “white”, she meant that the leaves had lost all of their color–i.e. a nearly complete absence of green (or any other color).  This was a serious cultural problem, not a harmless curiosity.  Wanting to know what could have gone wrong, we asked her how she cared for her plants.  It seemd that her violets were being “starved” to such a degree that they were no longer willing, or able, to produce chlorophyll (the green leaves).  Of course, she insisted she was doing everything properly (we knew better).  She listed all of the things she did, including regularly feeding all of her plants with an “African violet fertilizer”, in this case “Granny’s Bloomers”.  There, of course, was the answer.

We’ve always suggested that growers always use a “balanced” fertilizer, meaning a formula (N-P-K) containing approximately equal amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).  For example, we use fertilizers with formulas of 15-16-17 and 17-17-17 on all of our plants, all of the time.  It’s not necessary to use “bloom boosting”, high phosphorus formulas, even for blooming plants like African violets.  Far, far, more important to good blooming is a good environment (i.e. adequate light, moderate temperatures), and good care (i.e. watering, soil, etc.).  A well cared for plant, in a good environment, will bloom.  It does not need to be “forced” to bloom.  this is even true for “show” plants, where and abundance of bloom is needed. this is spoken from more than 25 years of experience (and hundreds of shows)–we’ve never had to use high phosphorus fertilizers.  They’re just not necessary. 

“Granny’s Bloomers”, as the name implies is a high phosphorus fertilizer.  What’s more,  with a 0-6-5 formula, it has NO nitrogen!  A fertilizer with this formula should never be used as the primary diet for the plant.  Nitrogen is the most important part of your plant’s diet, the basic fuel, lich starches (or carbohydrates) are for people.  Without any of it, your plant will eventually starve.  In this case, no nitrogen, means no chlorophyll.  No chlorophyll means no green in the foliage.  This is a perfect, though extreme, illustration of why a balanced diet is so important in growing healthy, blooming violets.  Always feed your plants enough nitrogen.  If you do use high phosphorus fertilizers, do so sparingly and when needed–never as a sole diet.

Brown spots on leaf edges

QuestionIs there any way to keep variegated foliage from getting brown spots along the edges?

Answer:  Though beautiful, variegated foliage can present some problems. One of these is the ugly spotting or “bruising” that’s referred to here.  Usually, the more heavily variegated the leaf, the more susceptible it is to such problems.  Just this morning, for example, we moved none heavily variegated plant to a different spot on the same shelf.  When we looked at it again, not more than two minutes later, nearly an entire leaf had turned a shade of brown.  You only need to breathe on some plants for them to bruise this way.

Fortunately, not all varieties are this sensitive and, with a few precautions, this problem can be minimized.  First, avoid over-handling the plants.  The less that you touch the foliage, the less likely the chance for bruising. Be especially careful not to handle these plants with cold and/or wet hands.  I once handled one after having a pickle as a snack, turning the entire plant brown within a matter of minutes!  Second, try not to keep these plants too soggy.  When the plant tissues are holding a lot of water, they seem especially prone to bruising.  Third, be careful when watering not to get water, particularly cold water, on the foliage.  Morning “dew” can be a problem, also.  This is the moisture that often appears in the crown, or on the leaf edges, the morning after a cool night.  For this reason, it’s best not to water in the evening, and to minimize the difference between nighttime and daytime temperatures.  Lastly, be careful in using fertilizers and other chemicals, since overuse of these can be toxic to the plant and damage the foliage.

Florescent lights in office

QuestionI have florescent lights in my office.  Can I grow African violets there?

Answer:  Yes, but if your office is like most, a violet probably won’t bloom very well, or often, there.  Violets grown in these conditions will rarely bloom, leaves will be less firm and succulent, and growth will be more sparse and upright in habit.  Florescent lights that are 6 feet, or so, above a violet on a desk top won’t provide enough light for good flowering, unless supplemented by good, indirect, natural light from a window.  If artificial light is all that is available, it would need to be much, much closer to the violet for it to bloom well.  This means within at least 18″ for a two-tube florescent fixture.

In the interest of a more pleasant working environment, why not consider mounting a small florescent light fixture underneath a bookshelf, of putting a small, table-top light stand on top of those filing cabinets?  Of course, this may mean more frequent interruptions from staff wanting to view your beautiful plants–“What a beautiful plant!  May I have a cutting?”.

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