Wicking Material

Question:  I would appreciate your answering a question about the use of mason’s twine in wicking.  Should the twine be unwound so that only one thread is used for wicking, or should the twin be used whole, as manufactured, for miniature violets?

Answer:  Since miniature violets are grown in smaller pots, and have smaller root systems, than do standard-size varieties, a thinner “wick” can be used.  Again, wicks made of synthetic material, like nylon, are best, since these will not decompose when constantly wet, as will wool yarn, for instance.  Though most growers choose to use a thinner wick for smaller plants, this isn’t absolutely necessary.  The wick will draw only as much water as the plant needs, so that a thicker wick won’t necessarily lead to an overwatered plant.  So long as the soil being used is “light” enough (contains plenty of perlite), wick size is not critically important.  For larger plants in larger pots, it is possible to use to thin/small a wick, since a great volume of water needs to be transported to the soil from the reservoir.

On the other hand, a wick that is too thin may dry out, or become clogged with fertilizer salts, stopping the wicking process.  If you find this happening frequently, use a thicker wick, or try another wicking material.  To restart the wicking action, water the plant thoroughly from the top and completely dampen the wick itself.

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.

Self-Watering Planters

Question:  We received our order of 8 various African violets.  Most of them we potted into self-watering planters.  They are not progressing.  I would appreciate any help you can give.

Answer:  This is likely the single most-asked question we receive.  There is nothing inherently wrong about growing in self-watering, Oyama, or “violet” pots, but when using them you MUST use a VERY porous, light soil mix.  Do NOT use commercially sold “violet soil” (like those found at your garden center, supermarket, or department store) for “violet” pots (for that matter not all “violet” fertilizers are best either).  Putting the word “violet” on the label doesn’t make it good for your violets–in fact, usually worse.  It’s good marketing, and plenty of soil, pots, and fertilizer is sold because of it, but this doesn’t make it correct.

So what kind of soil should be used for self-watering “violet” pots?  One containing at LEAST 50 percent perlite or other relatively non-absorbant material.   Vermiculite, though it does help lighten the soil, still absorbs too much water to be sufficient as an additive.  Select soils using the following rule: the wetter you intend to keep your plant, the more perlite to include in the mix.

Top Versus Bottom Watering

Question:  Does it matter how I water my violet?  Is it better to water from the top or bottom?

Answer:  It doesn’t really matter.  The roots of your violet don’t know where the moisture came from, only that it’s there to be used.  It’s not true that violets need to be watered from the bottom, though this is perfectly acceptable.  Watering from the top is safe, so long as room-temperature or slightly warmer water is used, and a violet with wet leaves is not left in direct sunlight or cold drafts.  It’s more important that the soil is kept properly moist, not how it’s moistened.  The best method is the one that suits you and your violets’ lifestyle best–whatever “works for you”

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