Question: How often should I fertilize my violet?
Answer: Every time you water. We like to say “treat your violets like you child”. A good parent wouldn’t feed her child only when it was convenient, at irregular intervals. A child, at least, will make more noise when it’s hungry–“…when’s dinner?!”. Any growing, living, thing needs regular, predictable, feedings. If you want your plant to grow and bloom continually and regularly, you need to provide for its needs continually and regularly. Use the “constant feed” directions for your fertilizer, or dilute to 1/4 to 1/8 strength if these are not given. Use less for constant-watering methods, since the plant will process more water, and occasionally flush with plain water to wash excess fertilizer salts from the soil.
Question: I have some very dirty violets. Can I wash them?
Answer: Sure, just be gentle. First, find a working area and sink that is large enough for you to handle your plants without damaging them or making a huge mess. A sink with a sprayer attachment, and easily controlled water flow and water temperature, is best. Next, you want to keep the soil from making a muddy mess of the plant. We find it best to do this when the soil is already moist. Dry soil tends to fall out of the pot too easily when it’s tipped. If you can’t fit your hands beneath the leaves and over the pot, you might want to make a plastic “collar” that fits around the plant’s neck and over the pot rim.
Collect all of your plants to be washed, so that once you find the right water temperature and pressure, you don’t have to turn off the water while searching for the next plant. Use room temperature or slightly warmer water–ideally, water the same temperature as the leaves themselves. The water pressure should be just strong enough to wash away the dirt without damaging the foliage. Tip the plant, holding it a bit on its side, so that the water runs off of the foliage and into the sink, not into the pot. Work from the center of the plant outwards, so that the dirt is washed off of the plant, and not into its center. If you need to, you can use a mild soap, like Ivory. Collect some soap suds on your fingertips and very gently “suds up” the foliage by carefully rubbing it between your fingers. Be sure to thoroughly wash the plant of the soap after doing this. When done, blot the excess water from the plant, especially the center, with a soft cloth or towel that won’t shed lint onto the plant (like some facial or toilet tissues). Place in a warm, protected, area away from direct sunlight and cold drafts.
Having said all of this, you should never need to wash a violet. Most people see the shiny foliage on our plants and assume that we wash our violets, but we almost never do. For one thing, washing a large showplant can be a lot of work, and can do more damage than good if not done very carefully. We prefer to regularly (once every few weeks) brush each plant’s leaves with a very soft bristle brush. If a violet isn’t allowed to stay dirty, it won’t need to be washed!
Question: What’s that yellow stuff that you keep brushing on your violets?
Answer: The “yellow stuff” that this visitor to our shop was referring to was powdered sulfur. It is our way of controlling powdery mildew, which seems to be a problem for us in spring and fall. Powdered sulfur is our way of eliminating mildew on a violet without having to spray our entire collection with more toxic chemicals. Since it’s our practice to regularly brush the leaves of our violets when we groom them, it’s not that much more work for us. We keep a small jar of it at our side, and when we see a plant with powdery mildew, we dip the brush tip into the jar, getting just a very small amount of sulfur, gently tap the brush onto the leaves, then brush off. It kills the mildew on contact, and keeps it from returning to the treated areas.
We should mention that we’ve tried the method of simply placing containers of sulfur amongst the plants, but found this to be of no use. It must be applied to the plants to be effective. Where to get it? As your local pharmacist. A lifetime supply can usually be gotten for just a few dollars.
Question: We keep our home quite cool at night, about 55f degrees. Will this be too cold for our African violets?
Answer: It won’t be too cold, but they won’t be very happy about it. Most varieties currently being grown prefer temperatures somewhere between 60f and 80f degrees–much the same as we do. Violets will survive in temperatures a bit outside of this range, but their growth will be adversely affected. Just like people or machines, they won’t function as well when too cold or too hot. When temperatures begin to fall much below 60f degrees, growth will be very slow, almost seeming to stop. Foliage will become more hairy and center growth will become smaller and bunched, behaving much like a person bundled up at a bus stop in winter. In extreme cases, one might mistake the tight, hairy, centers for a cyclamen mite infestation.
Foliage will be thicker and more brittle. Varieties with variegated leaves will become more heavily variegated, sometimes becoming nearly totally white. The blooms that may still be produced will be larger and more colorful, but will be less numerous and infrequent. If too cold, the blooms may be damaged or discolored, looking like they’ve been “bruised”. When it’s cold, it’s more important to keep excess moisture off of the foliage and blossoms, too.
Having said this, some varieties, and many of the species especially, will be quite happy with cooler than normal temperatures. Some of the species, in fact, won’t do well if it’s not cool. S. goetzeana is one that’s been known to bloom only if it’s kept quite cool. We like to grow our showplants a bit on the cool side, with temperatures between 60f and 70f, if possible, since this promotes better variegation, and larger, more colorful, and longer lasting blooms. Growth is slower, but prettier.