African Violets in Terrariums and Vivariums

Question:  I’m considering getting some miniature African violets for my vivarium (terrarium with living creatures).  Humidity is around 75% and temperature in the mid 70’s, with moderately bright artificial light.  Would this be suitable?

Question:  In general, do all of your plants like humidity?  I do a lot of terrariums, some with more moisture than others.

Answers:  The answer depends upon the plant.  Though many appreciate the additional humidity, most do not require high humidity.  We grow very few plants under cover, with a few exceptions.  Even for plants reputed to need high humidity, like episcias, we grow without any such accommodation.  Only those growers in extremely dry climates, where the ambient humidity is quite low, might have to take extra precautions.  That said, the general rule remains: if you’re comfortable, your plants are likely to be as well.

As for growing African violets, or most gesneriads, in a terrarium, or vivarium, there’s no reason this can’t be successfully done.  All will tolerate, even appreciate, the additional humidity and, given sufficient light, they should bloom just as well.  Do keep in mind that the moist environment does mean thad dead, or dying, material will deday faster and is more likely to be the cause of problems.  Unless you really intend to let “nature take its course” and have the terrarium be self-sustaining (and maintenance free), it’s best to not completely seal the container, or otherwise allow some access to the plants and materials inside.  African violets and many other gesneriads, in particular, are blooming plants, which means spent blooms will need to be regularly removed as they appear.  Also, many gesneriads, including violets (like trailers) can be spreading plants, and can easily outgrow the limited space of a terrarium if not occassionally pruned (unless that is the appearance desired).

As for using African violets in a vivarium, with other living creatures, like frogs, for example, they should be perfectly suitable.  The plants, themselves, are not toxic, and pose no harm to anything else living in the container.  We sell many violets and other container-suitable gesneriads for use in vivariums.  We also have frogs that have taken up residence in our growing areas–they’ve found their way inside and decided they liked it here.

Water Stains on Leaves

Question:  I’m very careful with my watering, not to get any on the foliage of the plant, but many of my violets still show what seem to be stains on their leaves.  These appear mostly on the leaf edges.

Answer:  This is a very common problem, particularly when nights are cool and soil is damp.  What’s happening is that cool nighttime temperatures are causing “dewdrops” to form on your plant’s leaves.  When the “drop” evaporates, it leaves behind a stain.  We find this particularly a problem in the spring and fall, when days are warm and nights are cool, and usually after we’ve watered and the soil is wetter than usual.  The solution, of course, would be to moderate daytime and nighttime temperatures, and to water plants early in the day.  This would let they dry some before temperatures drop at night.  Doing these thins will also help control powdery mildew.

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.

Effect of Gas/Propane on African Violets

QuestionI intend to grow my plants in my basement, where I have my furnace and hot-water heater.  I’ve been told that the gas from these appliances can damage my violets.  Should I worry?

Answer:  No.  Your plants are in danger if there is a natural gas (or propane) leak but, at that point, you would be in danger too!  Many growers, including ourselves, have successfully grown violets for years in basements, sometimes even in enclosed rooms built around gas furnaces and heaters.  Actually, growing in a basement can be the ideal environment for your violets, especially if you have a furnace and/or hot water heater in the room.  Below ground-level basements rarely require cooling in hot summer months, unless you have a LOT of plant stands!  In the winter, it should only require minimal heating, and if you locate your plants in the vicinity of your appliances, may not require heating at all.  The residual heat from the light bulbs and fixtures, might be enough.  If your plants do show symptoms of exposure to gas, call your furnace repairman immediately–you have bigger problems!

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