Question: You’ve told me that you can ship plant crowns into my country with no roots or soil. How can I successfully rot these?
Answer: For many countries, such as Russia, most in Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, it is not possible to send potted plants. Only cuttings, or the plant crowns (the top of the violet with all roots and soil removed), can be shipped. Surprisingly, this can be quite easily and successfully done. As soon as possible after receipt, root the crown much as you would a large sucker. Fill a small pot (2″ or 2 1/2″) with soil and moisten (wet, but not soggy). Make a small “divot”, or hole, in the surface center. Drop the crown into the hole and firm the soil around it. It’s important that the crown is in the soil firmly–it doesn’t easily “pop out” when you touch it. To do this, you might need to remove a few more leaves. If you can’t, press the crown as deep into the hole as possible. So long as the very tiny center of the plant isn’t totally buried, the plant will eventually grow out. After rooting the crown, place in a clear plastic container, like a sandwich bag or deli container, seal it, and wait about four weeks before removing. You’ll then have a small (rooted) plant. We’ve shipped thousands of plants this way to our international customers with much success.
Do the same if you’d like to root suckers, especially those taken from chimeras–those that you can’t propagate true from leaf cuttings. Or, do this if you’ve divided a multi-crowned plant, and some of these crowns ended up without roots. You might also want to intentionally remove and root a crown if you have received a plant you suspect may have soil-borne problems like soil mealybug (though doing so isn’t a foolproof solution), or if you have to “restart” a plant gone so long without repotting that its neck is too long to bury.
Question: I plan on going on a two-month vacation this summer, and would like some ideas on what would keep my violets alive for this long. They won’t be cared for while I’m away.
Answer: Though there may be a better idea, here’s what we would do. Out of necessity, it’s something we’ve done in the past with portions of our collection (before it became a business and we paid for “babysitters”). First, repot your violets, removing all but the center and, perhaps, the first row of leaves. Remove all buds and flowers. The idea here is not to leave anything on the plant (leaves or blossoms) that will need to be pruned or removed during your time away, since you won’t be around to do any grooming.
You also need to keep the soil from drying out while you’re away. One solution would be to wick-water the plants, being sure to leave enough water in the reservoir to last until your return. Another option is to place the plants in a transparent, covered, container, such as a plastic “sweater box”. Since this prevents evaporation, the plants should stay moist for quite some time. Be sure to leave enough room inside the container for the plants to grow. This works very well with miniatures or very young plants. Be sure plants are well groomed and disbudded, to avoid anything from rotting.
Keep the plants in their usual bright growing area. Put lights on lamp timers, which will turn them on and off at regular intervals. Avoid leaving them in windows, since natural light can’t be controlled while you’re gone. If all goes well, your violets should do just fine. In fact, having been repotted and disbudded, you might just come home to a spectacular display of color!
Question: Is there any way that I can keep the water in my wicking reservoir from turning green with algae?
Answer: Since the algae won’t grow in the dark, one solution is to use a dark, light-blocking, reservoir. Another is to add about 1/4 teaspoon of Physan 20 for every gallon of water. Physan 20 is a popular, easy, and relatively safe to use algaecide. About once every three weeks, we add it to our water to deep our capillary mats from turning green–it works wonders and, because it’s als a bactericide and fungicide, it’s a good preventative measure against more serious problems. We’ve also learned to use dark colored, acrylic, blankets (they can be hard to find), since algae is less likely to grow on dark surfaces and, when it does, is less visible.
Question: I have some very dirty violets. Can I wash them?
Answer: Sure, just be gentle. First, find a working area and sink that is large enough for you to handle your plants without damaging them or making a huge mess. A sink with a sprayer attachment, and easily controlled water flow and water temperature, is best. Next, you want to keep the soil from making a muddy mess of the plant. We find it best to do this when the soil is already moist. Dry soil tends to fall out of the pot too easily when it’s tipped. If you can’t fit your hands beneath the leaves and over the pot, you might want to make a plastic “collar” that fits around the plant’s neck and over the pot rim.
Collect all of your plants to be washed, so that once you find the right water temperature and pressure, you don’t have to turn off the water while searching for the next plant. Use room temperature or slightly warmer water–ideally, water the same temperature as the leaves themselves. The water pressure should be just strong enough to wash away the dirt without damaging the foliage. Tip the plant, holding it a bit on its side, so that the water runs off of the foliage and into the sink, not into the pot. Work from the center of the plant outwards, so that the dirt is washed off of the plant, and not into its center. If you need to, you can use a mild soap, like Ivory. Collect some soap suds on your fingertips and very gently “suds up” the foliage by carefully rubbing it between your fingers. Be sure to thoroughly wash the plant of the soap after doing this. When done, blot the excess water from the plant, especially the center, with a soft cloth or towel that won’t shed lint onto the plant (like some facial or toilet tissues). Place in a warm, protected, area away from direct sunlight and cold drafts.
Having said all of this, you should never need to wash a violet. Most people see the shiny foliage on our plants and assume that we wash our violets, but we almost never do. For one thing, washing a large showplant can be a lot of work, and can do more damage than good if not done very carefully. We prefer to regularly (once every few weeks) brush each plant’s leaves with a very soft bristle brush. If a violet isn’t allowed to stay dirty, it won’t need to be washed!