Encouraging Early Blooming

Question:  Is there a way to force African violets to bloom?  My plants do not start blooming until they are mature plants.  I have seen very small plants in bloom.  Are these early bloomers “forced”?

Answer:  Early blooming is a product of two things: the genetic predisposition of the variety, and good culture.  Some varieties just bloom earlier than others.  As hybridizers, this is a trait that we look for.  Some, in fact, begin to bloom just shortly after being separated from a leaf cutting.  We will actually remove the buds on these varieties to allow them to develop some foliage first.  These varieties are also often the ones being sold, since commercial growers are interested in a quick turnover–varieties that take up growing space waiting to bloom are more costly to grow.

Good cultural conditions, from the very beginning, are also important in early blooming.  For example, we fertilize normally from the beginning.  Leaf cuttings and small plantlets are fertilized as much and as often as mature plants.  This is contrary to the opinion of some.  Our feeling is that a growing plant needs food, no matter its size.  Light, water, temperature, etc. are also the same as for mature plants.  This isn’t “forcing” in that nothing different is being done for younger plants.  What’s being provided are the optimal conditions to allow young plants to reach their full potential at their earliest age.

Buds Don’t Open into Blooms

Question:  My violets develop plenty of buds, but many of them don’t open into flowers.  The humidity level is quite low (20-25%) in my home.  Is this the problem?

Answer:  Low humidity can cause buds to “blast” (not open) or not fully develop into blossoms.  The solution, of course, is to raise the humidity level in the area surrounding your violets.  An easy way to do this is to grow plants above, or on, a moist surface.  If you top water, this can be done by placing pots atop a tray of pebbles or gravel. Fill the tray with water, to just below the surface, so that pots don’t actually sit in the water.  The evaporation of water from the tray will increase the humidity level surrounding the plants.

Watering by capillary mats will also increase humidity.  Here, pots are place upon a damp blanket (use those made from man-made fibers).  Plants draw moisture through the drainage holes, where soil is in contact with the damp blankets.  Again, humidity is increased as water evaporates from the blankets. Community wick-watering of plants also will increase humidity.  To do this, place a sheet of “egg-crating” over a tray holding water.  “Egg-crating” is the plastic grid used in florescent ceiling lighting, is sold in most lumber yards or home centers, and can be cut to size.  Pots sit atop the crating above the water in the trays, with the wicks extending through the crating and into the water.  Water is drawn through the wicks and into the pot.  The standing water in the trays will also increase humidity.

Lastly, your violets themselves provide humidity as they transpire moisture through their leaves and water evaporates from the soil surface.  Grouping plants together will take advantage of this–but don’t overcrowd.  For those of us with really large numbers of plants, low humidity never seems to be a problem.

Miniature Violets Not Blooming

Question:  I purchased a couple of your miniature violets, ‘Rob’s Whoa Nellie’ and ‘Rob’s Cool Fruit’, about five months ago.  I have both plants under florescent lights at my office.  They get 8-plus hours of light, are both on reservoirs, with violet food.  They have lots of leaves, in fact, they have an abundance of sucker leaves that keep coming up in the middle, but not one bloom.  What do you suggest I do to help them?

Answer:  You’re right, they should have bloomed long ago.  There seem to be two possible problems.  First, how close are the florescent lights to the plants?  If these are ceiling lights used to illuminate the office, they are not getting nearly enough light to bloom well.  For miniature violets, a two-tube florescent light fixture needs to be within 8-12″ of the plant surface, for 12-13 hours a day–less if there is good supplemental light provided by windows in the office.  If this is the case, you need to find a way of providing more light for your plants.  How about a small table-top light fixture for the top of that filing cabinet in the corner?

The second problem is those “abundance of sucker leaves” in the middle of the plant.  Suckers and blooms tend to be mutually exclusive.  More of one means less of the other.  Be diligent in removing any growth from the leaf axils that you know isn’t a flower bud.  Why they are appearing in the “center” is another problem.  These are the worst kind of suckers, since they can’t be easily removed without damaging the true growing center of the plant.  Often, they will appear when the growing center of the plant is damaged (by accident or neglect), or otherwise can no longer grow.  Other times, it is simply a genetic characteristic of the plant, though we’ve never found these two varieties to have this problem.  If suckers are continued to be produced from the center of the plant, despite your attempts to remove them, you have two choices.  If the suckers are being produced due to the center having been damaged, allow one of these suckers to fully develop, then start another plant from it.  If the condition is genetic, there’s not much you can do besides surrender–it will likely continue to produce these “crown” suckers.

‘Stick-tite’ and ‘Wasp’ Blooms

Question:  Please tell me the definition of “stick-tite” and “wasp”.

Answer:  These terms are used to describe certain types of blossoms.  “Stick-tite” blooms are those that do not drop from the pedicel (blossom stem).  This is often a problem with single (5-petalled) blossoms that can fall from the pedicel even while still fresh.  Usually this is not a problem with semidouble and double blossoms.  Often blossoms that appear to be single are, in fact, semidouble blossoms where the extra petal is difficult to see.  Though genetically semidouble, these are often described as “stick-tite” single blossoms.

“Wasp” refers to single blossoms that have separate, very narrow, petal lobes.  Few of these varieties are still widely grown, since there blooms tend to be smaller, single, and not “stick-tite”.

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