Plants for a Cold Windowsill

Question:  We live in an old home, and most of the windows are quite cold.  I’m afraid that my windowsill will be much too cold for growing violets in the middle of winter.  Any suggestions on what I can grow there?

Answer:  Actually, violets will tolerate a good deal of cold.  We grow some (showplants even) on the windowsills of our glasshouse that, on some very cold days, will be covered with ice on the inside.  Most violets will easily tolerate temperatures down to 60f degrees before showing signs of distress.  Below this temperature, you might notice crowded growth in the plant center, and hairy, brittle, leaves.  It will just “stop growing” and only reluctantly flower.  Even then, the occasional night down to 50f degrees or so may not irreparably harm most varieties.

One solution would be growing some of the Saintpaulia (African violet) species, many of which will actually prefer your cool windowsill–it will remind them of their native habitat high in the mountains of East Africa.  Another solution is to grow some African violet relatives, such as Streptocarpus  or Primulinaa.  These are two very easy to grow gesneriads that thrive in cool conditions.  Care for both is similar to violets, but they’ll easily tolerate your chilly windowsill.  If space is a consideration, you might want to try growing a couple of the miniature species of Primulina, like P.tamiana (probably one of the easiest of all plants to grow and bloom).  Another good choice would be Petrocosmea, most of which are very small in size and will grow and bloom well in a cool location.  There are other choices, but these are some of the easiest to find and grow.

Suggestions for a Cold Windowsill

Question:  We live in an old home, and most of the windows are quite cold.  I’m afraid that my windowsill will be much too cold for growing violets in the middle of winter.  Any suggestions on what I can grow there?

Answer:  Actually, violets will tolerate a good deal of cold.  We grow some (showplants even) on the windowsills of our glasshouse that, on some very cold days, will be covered with ice on the inside.  Most violets will easily tolerate temperatures down to 60f degrees before showing signs of distress.  Below this temperature, you might notice crowded growth in the plant center, and hairy, brittle, leaves.  It will just “stop growing” and only reluctantly flower.  Even then, the occasional night down to 50f degrees or so may not irreparably harm most varieties.

One solution would be growing some of the Saintpaulia (African violet) species, many of which will actually prefer your cool windowsill–it will remind them of their native habitat high in the mountains of East Africa.  Another solution is to grow some African violet relatives, such as Streptocarpus  or Chirita.  These are two very easy to grow gesneriads that thrive in cool conditions.  Care for both is similar to violets, but they’ll easily tolerate your chilly windowsill.  If space is a consideration, you might want to try growing a couple of the miniature species of Chirita, like C.tamiana (probably one of the easiest of all plants to grow and bloom).  Another good choice would be Petrocosmea, most of which are very small in size and will grow and bloom well in a cool location.  There are other choices, but these are some of the easiest to find and grow.

Low Humidity

Question:  In the winter, with the furnace being used, the air in our home tends to be very dry.  What problems might this cause for my violets?  How can I increase the humidity?

Answer:  This can be a problem for many of us.  Though they don’t need very humid, damp, conditions to thrive, violets won’t be happy when the air is very dry.  At relative humidity levels below 30% or so, they, and you, can become uncomfortable.  Symptoms can include premature bud loss, or smaller than usual blooms, or brownish edges to blooms and foliage.  We’ve also notice that leaves on many varieties will tend to “spoon” (edges cupping upwards) under very dry conditions.  Keeping plants properly watered can be a problem too, since so much moisture is quickly evaporated from the leaf and soil surfaces.

If one grows enough plants, lack of humidity is rarely a problem.  Since water evaporates from the soil and the plants themselves, grouping enough of them together increases the humidity for all of them.  If this isn’t possible, or isn’t enough, another solution is to place the plants on a damp surface which will evaporate water and increase humidity.  This might mean placing plants on a wet tray of gravel.  The gravel serving to keep the pots above the water level.  Watering plants with capillary mats also provides additional humidity as water is evaporated from the wet blankets.  Using a community tray to wick water a number of plants does the same.  Of course, if you’re just as uncomfortable as your violets, using a humidifier, or installing one on your furnace, might be the best idea.

Blossom Not as Described

Question:  Several months ago I ordered several plants.  One of the violets was supposed to be ‘Cherries ‘n Cream’.  As I’ve grown this plant, it has bloomed well and is very healthy, but the blooms are single to semidouble reddish stars with “no edge at all”.  The foliage is as described.  What can this particular plant be, if it’s not ‘Cherries ‘n Cream’?

Answer:  This is a question received by one of our mail-order customers, since we guarantee all plants to be true to description.  Since the plant was true in every way except for the absence of the white edge on its bloom, we guessed that cultural conditions, the summer heat in particular, might be to blame.  Many edged varieties, particularly those with blossoms thinly edged white, tend to lose this edge when grown in very warm conditions.

It seems that her growing conditions, particularly the heat were, indeed, the problem.  This is the reply we received from her. “I’m relieved to know that it is just a matter of growing conditions.  What you said makes sense because I have been growing this plant in my kitchen (much warmer) with natural lighting versus in my basement (much cooler) under florescent lights.  ‘Cherries ‘n Cream’ doesn’t seem to appreciate a lot of direct light like some of the other violets.  I’ve also noticed that my variegated varieties have turned more green with the warmer weather.  I wonder if this affects all bicolor blooms as well?”

All of these symptoms are consistent with growing in a very warm environment.  Much, sometimes all, of the of the variegation can be lost in foliage, and many multicolor blooms can turn solid.  Fortunately, the variegation on most varieties will return with the cooler weather.  Unfortunately, this may not be the case with those having multicolor blooms, such as “fantasy” (i.e. spotted or splashed) and edged blooms, that have turned a single, solid, color.

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