Question:  I’m growing for show for the first time.  If I keep my standard-size violet disbudded, but don’t pot it into a larger container, will it produce the bigger leaves that I see on some large showplants?

Answer:  When a standard-size violet is continuously disbudded, it will produce larger leaves (mini and semiminiature varieties will stay small even when disbudded).  Not being allowed to bloom, all of the plant’s energy goes into producing foliage.  This is how experienced exhibitors grow some showplants so large.  Even though these plants may not have more leaves than they would when grown as a “house” plant, the individual leaves can double or triple in size.  Grown as a houseplant, most standard varieties rarely require a pot more than 4″ in diameter.  Grown as a large showplant, however, shallow pots 6″ to 8″ in diameter are often used, even larger for the humongous specimens!

A larger pot is aesthetically more pleasing for these big showplants (judges can deduct points for underpotting) but, without using larger pots, are necessary to produce such large leaves to begin with.  As the plant grows larger, it requires a more developed root system to support it.  This means providing more soil and a larger pot.  A plant will only grow as much foliage as its root system can support.  When disbudded, it may want to produce larger leaves, but will only produce leaves as large as its root system will support.  Therefore, both disbudding and potting into a larger container will be necessary to grow truly large plants.

How to Grow Large African Violets

Question:  I recently visited an African violet show.  Many of the violets displayed there were very large, perhaps 18″ or more across.  Mine have never gotten that large.  Can you explain why?

Answer:  First, keep in mind that these are showplants.  A prize-winning plant is the result of good culture and plenty of TLC.  Serious exhibitors also usually grow those varieties that make the best showplants–i.e. large, symmetrical foliage, and heavy bloom.

The most important factor, however, is probably disbudding.  Our large showplants are disbudded (not allowed to bud or bloom) continually from 6-8 months to about 6-10 weeks prior to the show.  During this time, all of the plant’s energy goes into foliage growth, not blossom production.  As a result, the leaves grow much larger.  While large showplants are often grown in (shallow) pots 6″ or larger, violets that aren’t going to show do quite well in 4″ pots, where they continue to bloom and grow to about 10-12″ in diameter.  Most exhibitors also use leaf supports, or “rings”, which go underneath the outer row of leaves and keep them from bending down over the rim of the pot.  This ensures that the leaves are held flat, and are exposed to the maximum amount of light, which promotes more vigorous growth.  Besides these differences, culture is the same in virtually every other way.

What Makes a ‘Show’ Plant?

Question:  In your catalog, you describe some varieties as good “show plants” and others as good “houseplants”.  Could you elaborate?

Answer:  It’s not a matter of better or worse, just different.  Much like the difference between the family pet and the winner at Westminster.  By “houseplant” we mean a variety that one grows purely for decorating the home, the windowsill, of the light stand.  It may have pretty blooms, be particularly easy to grow and bloom, but is unspectacular in mos other ways.  With the proper care and expertise, any plant can be grown as a show specimen, including those we describe as “houseplants”.  Varieties good for “show”, however, possess certain qualities that make them either exceptional show specimens and/or make them easier to grow for show.

What makes a variety good “show plant” material?  Most importantly, it will have an exceptional growth habit, producing leaves in an even, predictable pattern.  Leaves will overlap and “shingle” atop each other as they are produced, and the plant will always have a round shape when viewed from above.  If variegated, the leaves will show more and/or brighter variegation of white, yellow, pink, or beige, and hold this variegation with age.  If it’s a standard-size variety, it typically will grow larger, making a more impressive plant when mature.  If miniature (or semiminiature), it will not outgrow the maximum allowd diameters for its size (6 or 8 inches, respectively)–it will look small and petite.  If a trailing variety, it will easily branch and spread, creating a full, round, form.

No matter the type or size, it will have more blooms and larger blooms (especially for a larger standard).  Unusual colors or patters in the blooms aren’t always important when selecting for show, though it helps.  Many of the best varieties for show are actually quite plain in many ways, simple colored blooms or plain foliage, but they grow so impressively and bloom so profusely that they always seem to find their way onto the Court of Honor.  Of course, “show” varieties don’t need to be grown for show.  You can enjoy them as “houseplants”–after all, the winning dog at Westminster also is somebody’s family pet!

Symmetry: Remove Damaged Leaf?

QuestionIs it better to remove a damaged leaf, spoiling symmetry, or to keep it?

Answer:  If the plant is being exhibited, this is a judgment call.  points can be lost for both gaps in symmetry, and for damaged leaves.  If it is not a showplant, it becomes a trade-off between the appearance of the plant and the plant’s health.  When the leaf is basically healthy, but looks unattractive, this depends, again, on whether the gap is more of less unattractive than the leaf.  If the leaf is not healthy, it should be removed.  Only healthy leaves are helpful in processing energy and producing food for the plant.  Removing diseased and dying leaves also reduced the chances of spreading the problem of one leaf to other areas of the plant.  A clean, well-groomed plant is a healthier plant.