Dark ‘Staining’ or Mottling on Leaves

Question:  Our club is growing ‘Rob’s Sunspot’ as our project plant.  Many members are experiencing “red staining” on the plant leaves, though the variety description doesn’t mention this.  Is this a genetic condition?

Answer:  Yes, this is a genetic condition.  This registered variety is described as a “double white star with bright red mottling”.  Multicolored varieties, such as this one, often exhibit mottling in their leaves–the “red staining” described in the question.  Many varieties with such multicolored blooms will also sometimes show mottling in their leaves. 

By their nature, multicolor blossomed varieties are more genetically unstable.  This is the small price we pay for the beauty of the flowers.  Personally, we’ve found those plants with mottling in the foliage make the prettiest plants, since the coloring in the foliage usually means more coloring in the blooms.  We tend to set these aside as our showplants.  We’ve also found that many of these varieties tend to mottle more (in blooms and foliage) as the plants mature.

Adding Charcoal to Soil

Question:  I have heard that fireplace ashes (finely sifted) are a good additive for African violet soil.  Is this so, and what ratio of ashes to soil?

Answer:  Personally, we’ve never used fireplace ashes in our soil, though we do use horticultural charcoal, at a ratio of 2 cups charcoal to every 5 gallons of soil mix.  Given the labor (and mess) involved, most growers choose to buy charcoal, rather than make their own.  You can, however, use your fireplace ashes as a substitute.

The best discussion of this we found in Secrets of Gesneriad Growing, by Max Dekking (now out of print).  To quote from the book, “one can….make one’s charcoal (from the) natural charcoal left behind in your wood-burning fireplace.  Hardwoods such as oak, make excellent charcoal, but fir or eucalyptus is good too.  Pine is not recommended, as it seems to have a toxic substance.”  He goes on to say that he makes all of his own by crushing the ashes within a plastic bag, then screening it.

Charcoal, though not necessary to the soil mix, does offer a number of benefits.  First, it acts a soil “sweetener”, by keeping down toxic conditions caused by destructive bacteria.  It’s also a natural source of potash, a necessary nutrient for our plants.  Whether you buy it, or make your own, charcoal is a good addition to any mix.

Feeding of Variegated Varieties

Question:  I am new to the African violet world and would like to know more about variegation.  What is ‘Tommi-Lou’ and ‘Champion’ variegation?  Do I care for and feed variegates the same as nonvariegates?

Answer:  Variegation is simply white, beige, or pink coloring in the foliage.  ‘Tommi-Lou’ variegation will normally appear on the edges of the leaf, sometimes with speckles or streaks elsewhere.  ‘Champion’ (or ‘crown’–we prefer the former label) variegation usually appears from the base of the leaf blade and spreads outward; sometimes so that nearly the entire leaf is variegated.  In addition, there is ‘mosaic’ (or ‘Lillian Jarrett’) type variegation, which appears as heavy streaks or spotting in the center of the leaf blade (like freckles), the border of the blade remaining green.

We care for variegates exactly as we do other varieties, with only one exception.  It is best to grow them at lower temperatures.  If temperatures are too high for too long, many varieties will lose their variegation and turn all green.  Those with ‘Champion’ variegation are especially prone to this, though newer varieties are more tolerant.  Fortunately, most varieties will variegate again once cooler temperatures return.  Variegation is almost solely a function of genetics and temperature.  Using a “variegated special” fertilizer such as a 5-59-17 formula won’t provide the plant with the nitrogen necessary to keep the foliage lush.

Maximum Number of Leaves on African Violet

Question:  What is the maximum number of rows of leaves a violet should have?

Answer:  This is really a matter of personal preference.  When exhibited, good symmetry (or form) is rewarded, not quantity of foliage.  The number of rows necessary to achieve good symmetry usually depends upon the size of the leave blade relative to the length of petiole.  Varieties with relatively long petioles and small leaf blades (imagine a badminton racquet) will need more rows of leaves to fill the same amount of space than those with shorter petioles and larger leaf blades (a racquetball racquet).  Symmetry is also easier to achieve with round, rather than pointed, leaves, since the former fill more space and provide a smoother outline to the perimeter of the plant.

When growing standard-sized varieties for show, bigger is usually better.  However, keep in mind that more bloom, or larger bloom is needed to complement the additional foliage–bigger, but not necessarily biggest.  Some of the better varieties make a terrific, good-sized show plant with as few as three or four rows of leaves–the individual leaves are so large that not many of them are needed to produce a large plant.  For miniatures and semiminiatures, our feeling is to grow as few rows as necessary to achieve good symmetry.  Since, by definition, these varieties are supposed to be small, unnecessary rows of leaves are just that–unnecessary.  Finally, remember that bloom is usually only produced from the first few rows of leaves.  All of those older, outer rows of leaves won’t be providing additional flowers

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