Fertilizer and Variegation

Question:  I purchased ‘Rob’s Whippoorwill’, which originally had variegation on the outermost ring of leaves, but it has now started to turn all green.  I feed all of my violets with ‘Miracle-Gro African Violet Food’ (7-7-7 formula), every time I water, 10 drops per quart.  Am I feeding too heavily for a variegate?  Do they require more or less light than the average violet?  This is my first try with variegates, and I’m not happy with the results.  Am I doing something wrong?

Answer:  Not necessarily.  To begin with, ‘Rob’s Whippoorwill’ is a Champion (or crown) variegated variety that can easily lose its variegation with age.  In this case, it’s probably the variety, not you, that’s the source of your frustration.  In explaining further, we’re about to say a few things that will fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

Beyond the habits of the variety itself, our personal experience tells us that the single, most important, factor in determining the amount of variegation is temperature.  Variegation is always greater when plants are grown in a cooler environment.  Variegates can be sensitive to overfeeding, especially since heavily variegated varieties seem more likely to show signs of fertilizer burn on leaf margins and tips.  It’s also true that, because of the lesser amount of chlorophyll in their leaves, they grow slower and process relatively less food than do all-green varieties.  Still, feeding them significantly less, or feeding them low-nitrogen fertilizers, won’t necessarily produce heavier variegation–it just means that the green portions of the foliage will be a lighter shade of green.  We feed our variegates the same balanced fertilizer as all of our other violets, since our goal is a plant whose leaves have green portions that are dark green, and whose variegated portions are bright white (or yellow, beige, etc.).  Conventional wisdom also says that variegates require less light.  We suppose, in theory, that they do.  But in practice, we’ve grown them precisely the same as all of our other violets with no noticeable difference.

If you really want to grow heavily variegated varieties, simply grow them in as cool an environment as possible.  By cool, we mean night temperatures as low as 60-65f degrees, and day temperatures less than 70-75f degrees.  For those varieties whose foliage tends to turn green with age even when grown in moderate temperatures, here’s a trick we use for growing showplants.  Remove all but the center row or two of foliage, and remove all but a third of the root system.  By “starting over” these all-green variegates, the new growth (assuming, again, that your conditions aren’t too warm) should be variegated, at least long enough to show.  For those not growing for show, is it really that important?  After all, are the blooms on an all-green “variegated” plant any less pretty than those on a non-variegated variety?

Can Species Violets be Grown Multicrowned?

Question:  My species plant of S. orbicularis purperea is growing well, but has begun to sucker heavily.  Is it best to grow single-crowned, or am I better off letting is sucker naturally?

Answer:  Unlike our modern hybrids, which are developed to grow best in a specific form, the Saintpauliaspecies plants can be successfully grown either single nor multi-crowned.  The AVSA Master Variety Listsays this species “may be grown single-crowned–does not sucker”.  The operative word here is “may”, since many of the species seem to have a mind of their own, and grow best in different forms for different growers.  Personally, we have found S. orbicularis to be one species that grows more naturally multi-crowned.

Other species, like S. ionantha, S. velutina, and S. diplotricha, grow extremely well and easily for us as single-crowned plants.  They can, however, be grown multi-crowned, if this is their preferred habit under your conditions.  To quote from the AVSA Handbook for Judges and Exhibitors, “judges must look at the species as native or wild plants.  Occasionally, in the wild habitat, they may have an extra crown or two.”  Keep in mind that only the species and trailing varieties can be exhibited as multi-crowned

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.

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.

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