Question:  I’m growing for show for the first time.  If I keep my standard-size violet disbudded, but don’t pot it into a larger container, will it produce the bigger leaves that I see on some large showplants?

Answer:  When a standard-size violet is continuously disbudded, it will produce larger leaves (mini and semiminiature varieties will stay small even when disbudded).  Not being allowed to bloom, all of the plant’s energy goes into producing foliage.  This is how experienced exhibitors grow some showplants so large.  Even though these plants may not have more leaves than they would when grown as a “house” plant, the individual leaves can double or triple in size.  Grown as a houseplant, most standard varieties rarely require a pot more than 4″ in diameter.  Grown as a large showplant, however, shallow pots 6″ to 8″ in diameter are often used, even larger for the humongous specimens!

A larger pot is aesthetically more pleasing for these big showplants (judges can deduct points for underpotting) but, without using larger pots, are necessary to produce such large leaves to begin with.  As the plant grows larger, it requires a more developed root system to support it.  This means providing more soil and a larger pot.  A plant will only grow as much foliage as its root system can support.  When disbudded, it may want to produce larger leaves, but will only produce leaves as large as its root system will support.  Therefore, both disbudding and potting into a larger container will be necessary to grow truly large plants.

How to Divide a Plant

Question:  I have a plant that needs dividing, but seems so overgrown that I don’t know where to begin.

Answer:  This was from a member at a local club meeting who had a “supermarket” violet that was so overgrown and crowded with crowns that dividing it by simply pulling crowns apart would have been impossible.  Normally, if there appear to be just two or three large, easily identified crowns, you can massage them apart with your fingers, then pot each crown into its own pot.  That wasn’t possible in this case.

The individual crowns still need to be identified and removed, but doing so here means cutting them out with a sharp knife or razor (we like Exacto modeling knives).  Be careful to remove whole crowns, with at least two leaves and a growing center.  Fill a small (2″ or 2 1/2″ pot) with moist (wet, not soggy) soil and make a small “divot” in the center of the soil surface.  Place the crown in the divot and gently, but firmly, press the moist soil around its base.  Be sure the crown is “snug” and doesn’t wobble around in the pot–it will root better if this is so.  Place the potted drown in a clear, plastic bag or container, and seal it.  You shouldn’t have to water until it’s removed from the bag.  Place it in a bright, but not sunny, location.  In about four weeks, the crown should have rooted and can be removed from the bag–you now have a plant.  What’s important now is that you don’t allow this to happen again!  Regularly remove any “suckers” (small pairs of leaves seen growing in the leaf axils) as they appear.  If you don’t those little suckers will soon become large crowns of their own and you’ll have to divide it again.  Besides, your violet will look more attractive and bloom better if suckers are regularly removed.

Miniature Violets and Pot Size

Question:  Why are miniature violets small?  Will it grow bigger if I pot it in a larger pot?

Answer:  The answer to this question seemed so obvious that  we hesitated to include it here.  Then we remembered all of the visitors to our shop, some of whom already grew African violets, that didn’t realize the distinction between “miniature” and “standard” sized varieties and how they should be grown. 

To begin with, “miniature” violets grow small because of their genetic makeup, not because of how they’ve been cared for.  To be more precise, a miniature variety is one that typically will not exceed 6″ in diameter at maturity.  “Semiminiatures” are slightly bigger, but still small, being allowed to grow up to 8″ in diameter when mature.  In fact, to be judged at an AVSA sanctioned show, they are not allowed to exceed their specified size.

These varieties have been specially bred by hybridizers to grow small.  In practice, many of these varieties will grow even smaller than their allowed dimensions.  The Best Miniature at the 2000 AVSA Convention Show, ‘Rob’s Twinkle Blue’, is an example.  Though this plant was a bit larger, ours never exceeds 2″ or 3″–a real micro-miniature.

Because these varieties are genetically limited in size, potting them into larger pots won’t make them into larger plants.  Being such small plants by nature, they have small root systems.  Most don’t have root systems much larger than 2″ or so.  Using pots much larger than this means that there is excess soil that the small root systems can’t utilize.  Since roots don’t reach this excess soil, it can tend to stay excessively damp and can damage the small root system.  A 2″ or 2 1/4″ pot is sufficient for most miniature varieties, while semiminiatures need no more than a 2 1/2″ pot.  We tell visitors to the shop that miniature violets are like miniature ponies–putting a larger saddle on them won’t make them into a horse!

Hours of Light

Question:  I grow some of my violets under artificial lights on a light stand very close to my kitchen window.  My miniature violets are about 10″ below the tubes.  How many hours should I keep the lights on?

Answer:  We also grow our minis about 10″ below the tubes, with our standard-size varieties about 18″ below. Our lights remain on about 13 hours each day.  These plants, however, receive no supplemental natural light.  We do have two growing areas that receive a great deal of natural light as well.

The first of these are standard violets that we grow under florescent lighting on the lower shelf of a large bench in the glasshouse.  During the summer, especially, these plants get a good deal of additional indirect sunlight.  Because of this, we give them only 10 hours of artificial light during these months.  We also grow many of our plants, including all of our showplants, in a room with many very large windows–the south and west walls are nearly all glass.  Because we need to equalize our electricity usage throughout the day, we keep many of the lights turned on at night.  As a result, the plants never really have a period of total darkness.  From experience, we’ve learned that most of these plants do well only if lights are kept on for 10 hours or less, sometimes as little as 8 hours, a day.

A precise answer can’t be given, since it depends upon that particular growing environment.  But it is safe to say that less artificial light needs to be provided in the presence of supplemental natural light.

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