Chlorine in Water

Question:  I am concerned about Cloramines in water.  I’ve heard that these cannot be boiled away and, over time, will cause toxicity in the plant and damage the leaves.  I use tap water that I boil and let sit at room temperature.  The other alternative I could personally use is collecting rain water and straining that as well as boiling it–I do have a rain barrel.

Answer:  We’ll begin this answer like we do many others–if what you’re doing now is working, don’t change it and don’t worry about it.  For my first 20 years growing violets, I used municipal water out of the tap (yes, they added chloramines), with little consequence.  For the next 20, we’ve used well water (with no additives).  Given the choice, I’d return to municipal water in heartbeat!

This is not to say that chloramine is of no concern–just not greater than any number of others faced by the grower.  Chloramine is a chemical compound (or ammonia and chlorine) added in low concentrations as a disinfectant to municipal water, as an alternative to “free” chlorine.  It has been used by municipal water systems for many decades.  Its used is becoming more widespread, wince it is more stable than chlorine and does not dissipate from the water before reaching users.  Precisely because it does not easily dissipate, it is likely to remain in the water when used on your plants.  Unlike chlorine, you cannot “age” your water, leaving it out in open containers for a day or two, until the chlorine has left the water.  Chloramine also cannot be removed fro the water by boiling, distilling, or reverse-osmosis filtration.  According to the EPA, the best means of removing chloramine is by use of an activated carbon system–a quality, granulated, activated filter and allowing sufficient contact time with the water being treated.  The best of those multistage systems can remove nearly all of the chloramines (as well as most other contaminants).

After all of this “scary” stuff, why not be concerned?  First, unless your municipal water authority is negligent and using chloramines above recommended levels, it should be harmless for both you and your plants.  Second, to the extent that you might be concerned about cumulative effects on your plants, this is only an issue if other good cultural practices are absent.  One of these is regular repotting of your plants.  Violets, and most other plants, should be repotted at least once per year, better every six months.  By refreshing soil regularly, you will be removing much of the contaminants in the soil, such as chloramines, fertilizer salts, and the like.  If you’re using a constant-watering system, like wicking or self-watering pots, regular refreshing of the soil is a must, since the soil is not “cleansed” as it would be with top watering.

Repot When Soil is Dry or Damp?

Question:  Do you repot when the soil is dry or damp?

Answer:  It is best, and easiest, to repot from moist soil into moist (but not soggy) soil.  “Moist” meaning the plant hasn’t just been watered, nor does it need to be immediately watered–it will need watering in another day or two.  Just-watered plants, or those in wet soil, will be more susceptible to bruising, expecially heavily variegated varieties, if not handled very carefully.  Leaves also will be more rigid and more likely to break.  If the soil is too dry, leaves will be more supple and easier to bend without breaking, but the dry root system is easily damaged.  In either case, your plant is likely to look a bit tired and “beat up” after repotting.

Besides being better for your plant, using mois, or slightly damp, soil will be less messy and easier to use.  Wet soil can create a muddy mess, and very dry soil can be dusty and difficult to manage.  Use soil just moist enough to hold together and “mold” into your pot.  You should be able to make a “ball” with your soil, but this ball should easily crumble when dropped or pressed.  Our rule of thumb is to add water to dry (peat based) soil at a ratio of about 1 to 4.  For example, about 1 quart of water added to 4 quarts of dry soil.  Add the water the night before you need to use your soil and shake or mix the soil container prior to using.

Wicking Material

Question:  I would appreciate your answering a question about the use of mason’s twine in wicking.  Should the twine be unwound so that only one thread is used for wicking, or should the twin be used whole, as manufactured, for miniature violets?

Answer:  Since miniature violets are grown in smaller pots, and have smaller root systems, than do standard-size varieties, a thinner “wick” can be used.  Again, wicks made of synthetic material, like nylon, are best, since these will not decompose when constantly wet, as will wool yarn, for instance.  Though most growers choose to use a thinner wick for smaller plants, this isn’t absolutely necessary.  The wick will draw only as much water as the plant needs, so that a thicker wick won’t necessarily lead to an overwatered plant.  So long as the soil being used is “light” enough (contains plenty of perlite), wick size is not critically important.  For larger plants in larger pots, it is possible to use to thin/small a wick, since a great volume of water needs to be transported to the soil from the reservoir.

On the other hand, a wick that is too thin may dry out, or become clogged with fertilizer salts, stopping the wicking process.  If you find this happening frequently, use a thicker wick, or try another wicking material.  To restart the wicking action, water the plant thoroughly from the top and completely dampen the wick itself.

Can Species Violets be Grown Multicrowned?

Question:  My species plant of S. orbicularis purperea is growing well, but has begun to sucker heavily.  Is it best to grow single-crowned, or am I better off letting is sucker naturally?

Answer:  Unlike our modern hybrids, which are developed to grow best in a specific form, the Saintpauliaspecies plants can be successfully grown either single nor multi-crowned.  The AVSA Master Variety Listsays this species “may be grown single-crowned–does not sucker”.  The operative word here is “may”, since many of the species seem to have a mind of their own, and grow best in different forms for different growers.  Personally, we have found S. orbicularis to be one species that grows more naturally multi-crowned.

Other species, like S. ionantha, S. velutina, and S. diplotricha, grow extremely well and easily for us as single-crowned plants.  They can, however, be grown multi-crowned, if this is their preferred habit under your conditions.  To quote from the AVSA Handbook for Judges and Exhibitors, “judges must look at the species as native or wild plants.  Occasionally, in the wild habitat, they may have an extra crown or two.”  Keep in mind that only the species and trailing varieties can be exhibited as multi-crowned

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