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 suspect that it’s time to repot my violet, since it has an ugly trunk and it’s been a long time since I last did this. I’m afraid to though, since it’s still blooming and I don’t want to lose the flowers. Is there a best time to repot?
Answer: The best time to do anything is when it needs to be done. This means repotting your violet into fresh soil on a regular basis, when a “neck” begins to appear and is easy to remedy. Usually this means about twice a year. If done this often, the neck will not be very long or visible and will be easy to bury. This is done by removing some old soil (and roots) from the bottom of the rootball, lowering the plant in the pot, and then adding fresh soil around the top to cover the neck. If this is done regularly, then not much of the root system needs to be removed, so that the plant won’t suffer from the shock of repotting–it will barely even know what you’ve done to it. It should continue to bloom as it had before. Don’t feel squeamish about removing a few of the old, outer, leaves. These likely have already produced flowers and won’t do so again. Concentrate on maintaining the new, healthy, growth. It is this growth that will be producing your flowers now and in the future. Regularly freshening the soil encourages new root growth, which then can support new foliage growth and blooms.
Should you let the neck grow too long, then more of the root system will need to be removed and wit will more likely suffer from the stress of repotting–and may not bloom as well for awhile. Things done regularly, in small doses, are better than drastic measures done late.
Question: Why are miniature violets small? Will it grow bigger if I pot it in a larger pot?
Answer: The answer to this question seemed so obvious that we hesitated to include it here. Then we remembered all of the visitors to our shop, some of whom already grew African violets, that didn’t realize the distinction between “miniature” and “standard” sized varieties and how they should be grown.
To begin with, “miniature” violets grow small because of their genetic makeup, not because of how they’ve been cared for. To be more precise, a miniature variety is one that typically will not exceed 6″ in diameter at maturity. “Semiminiatures” are slightly bigger, but still small, being allowed to grow up to 8″ in diameter when mature. In fact, to be judged at an AVSA sanctioned show, they are not allowed to exceed their specified size.
These varieties have been specially bred by hybridizers to grow small. In practice, many of these varieties will grow even smaller than their allowed dimensions. The Best Miniature at the 2000 AVSA Convention Show, ‘Rob’s Twinkle Blue’, is an example. Though this plant was a bit larger, ours never exceeds 2″ or 3″–a real micro-miniature.
Because these varieties are genetically limited in size, potting them into larger pots won’t make them into larger plants. Being such small plants by nature, they have small root systems. Most don’t have root systems much larger than 2″ or so. Using pots much larger than this means that there is excess soil that the small root systems can’t utilize. Since roots don’t reach this excess soil, it can tend to stay excessively damp and can damage the small root system. A 2″ or 2 1/4″ pot is sufficient for most miniature varieties, while semiminiatures need no more than a 2 1/2″ pot. We tell visitors to the shop that miniature violets are like miniature ponies–putting a larger saddle on them won’t make them into a horse!
Question: Must I always grow minis in small pots and standard varieties in large pots? I have very limited space, and would like to grow standards in small pots as well.
Answer: Again, the rule for proper pot size is to use a pot the same size as the plant’s root system. For minis and semiminiatures, this means pots of 2″ to 2 1/4″, and about 4″ for most standards (when grown as “house” plants, not for exhibition). Using pots that are smaller in size than the root system means that the plant will become “pot-bound” very quickly. These plants will need watering more frequently since the lesser soil volume in the small pot provides less water than the relatively larger plant and root system demands.
To keep soil fresh and to encourage new root growth, more frequent repotting into fresh soil would be necessary. That said, since the objective here is to keep standard-size varieties growing as small as possible in a limited space, keeping them underpotted would be advantageous. By constricting its root system, you would be doing the same as those who grow “bonsai”. In bonsai, plant size and growth are in large part regulated by restricting the size and growth of the root system.
Many violet growers are doing this when they grow mini and semimini varieties, that naturally would grow 4-8″ in diameter, in 1″ thumb-pots. These violets appear to be “micro” miniatures, since they grow only 2-3″ or so, in diameter. But these violets aren’t true microminiatures. Since it’s not their nature to grow this small, they are being “forced” to by constricting their root system. A true microminiature will grow small even when grown in a larger pot. Don’t be fooled by those violets in the cute little pots sold in your supermarket! Growing a standard violet in a smaller pot would have the same effect, but to a lesser degree, making it grow smaller, though not quite miniature. But if size is the issue, why not just grow miniatures?