Proper Pot Size for Episcias

Question:  What size pot should I grow my Episcia in?  Can I grow more than one plant in a pot?

Answer:  Episcias, like African violets and most gesneriads, are relatively shallow-rooted plants that don’t need a very deep pot.  As your plant grows, you can repot it into a larger diameter, but not much deeper, pot.  This means that “azalea” or “pan” pots are better than standard pots, since they are more wide than deep.  Somethimes this means you need to be creative, since large but shallow pots can be difficult to find.  We’ve used deeper pots that we’ve cut-down to make shallow, and have some of our larger plants in saucers that we’ve drilled holes into for drainage.  None of these pots are more than a few inches deep, even for the largest of plants.

In many ways, episcia and other stolon-producing or spreading gesneriads can be treated much like trailing African violets.  All grow very well in shallow pots.  Our older, larger, trailing violets are grown in the same saucers.  We grow both as “ground covers”, in the sense that we like to cover a large area of soil with dense growth, rather than allow the plant to sprawl over the pot edges.  The “runners” are moved and pinned into the soil surface to fill-in empty spaces, much like we arrange the stolons of an episcia.  Either plant could just as easily be grown as a “hanging basket” by growing in a smaller pot and letting the runners or stolons grow and fall over the edge of the pot.

There is one important difference between growing trailing violets and other gesneriads for exhibition, though.  Only trailing violets and Saintpaulia species can be shown multiple crowned, while all other gesneriads may be properly shown with either single or multiple crowns.  Further, though trailing and species violets can be shown with more than one crown (a trailer, in fact, must have three or more), only one plant is allowed in a pot, whereas there is no restriction on the number of individual plants per pot for other gesneriads.  While it’s perfectly allowable to fill a pot with many episcia cuttings (plants), only one trailing violet plant per pot is permitted (though this one trailer may have many crowns).

Which Varieties are Easiest to Grow?

Question:  Which varieties are easiest to grow?

Answer:  This is a very commonly asked question, and one that’s almost impossible to answer, except to say, “it depends”.  It depends upon what you like, what suits your growing environment, and your space.  All else equal, plants that do best are those that get cared for the best.  “Favorites” become favorites because they are often the most looked-at and cared-for.  So, grow varieties you like–if you  don’t like aplant, it likely won’t do well.

Having said that, choose varieties that suit your environment and space the best.  Those with limited space might want to grow miniature or semiminiature varieties.  Don’t grow more plants than your space will allow.  Hiding a small mini between or beneath a larger standard doesn’t do it much good.  It’s not surprising that minis grown this way don’t do well!  Crowding large plants together won’t help either–give them some room to grow to their desired size.  Have lots of good windows but now windowsill space?  Try growing trailing African violets in hanging baskets.  Variegated varieties will look their best in cooler temperatures.  If your conditions are too warm (consistently above 80f degrees), you may lose much of the variegation on these varieties, especially if crown-variegated.  Still, these varieties may be lovely even without the variegation and can be grown for the blooms alone.

If you’re neglectful about watering and tend to let your plants wilt, larger growing plants may be easier than smaller ones.  Large plants will take longer to die than smaller ones–there’s just more of them to kill.  A self-watering system, such as wicking, self-watering pots, or capillary matting, might be for you if this is the case.  Trailing varieties may be easier if you tend to be neglectful about grooming and repotting.  Though grooming is beneficial, there’s no need to worry about suckers on a trailer–the more the better!

When buying from a commercial grower, ask them for recommendations, since they will have more experience growing these varieties than you will.  After growing many different varieties, notice who the hybridizer was of your best-performing varieties.  It’s quite likely that the hybridizer has growing conditions similiar to yours.  When adding to your collection, you might want to select more from this hybridizer.  The best advice is to join a violet club (if you don’t already belong to one) and ask other members who have similar growing conditions and preferences to yours.  Better yet, pay them a visit!  See how they grow their plants.  See how their growing environment may be similar, or different, from yours, and see what kinds of varieties do best for them

Common Versus Botanical Names

Question:  Do you grow “gold fish plants” or “lipstick vines”?

Answer:  We do, but that’s not the reason we’ve chose this question to answer.  This is a very frequently asked question, both at the shop and by those calling us.  We’ve chose this to illustrate the importance of using the botanical names of plants.  It’s true that we don’t follow this rule when we call a Saintpaulia by its common name, African violet.  Fortunately, “African violet” is so commonly used and so universally understood to identify Saintpaulia, that there’s almost never any confusion about what one is referring to.  Unfortunately, this is often not the case when referring to other members of the gesneriad family.

What one may see identified as a “goldfish plant” at one garden center is identified differently at another.  Keep in mind that most retailers are interested in selling you plants, not educating.  It’s quite likely that few of those working at the garden center of “X-Mart” even know what they are selling, common name or otherwise.  They realize that common names are far less intimidating and more consumer-friendly than botanical names.  Unfortunately, often because they don’t know any better (or care), there is no real effort to use the same common name on the same plants sold by different retailers.  What you saw identified as a “goldfish plant” at one retailer may have been labeled a “dolphin plant” at another (only yesterday a customer at the shop had this very problem).  Why not simply call the plant a Columnea, the correct botanical name of what most likely is being referred to?  A Columnea, is always a Columnea (pronounced “koe-lum-nee-ah”)–but sometimes a “goldfish plant” is actually something else, like a Nematanthus orAeschynanthus, two other gesneriads usually grown as basket plants and with blooms of the same colors.

Yes, some botanical names can seem a bit intimidating at first, but using them ensures that you get the plant that you are looking for, not what the seller guesses you are looking for.  Besides, when you think about it, are they really any harder to pronounce than the names of some people you know, or things like “cellular” phones or “flourescent” lights, words that you probably say without hesitation?

Disinfecting Pots and Trays

Question:  I recently bought bleach to use to disinfect pots and trays.  I brought Ultra Clorox bleach and used it at a one to nine ration as I had done with another bleach.  When I called the Clorox service number, I was told not to use the Ultra product for this purpose.  I wonder what is best to use now.  I also know some people use vinegar.  I have not been able to establish the measurements of a pH level to aim for when using vinegar for disinfecting.  Any comments?

Answer:  At the Violet Barn, we have long used both bleach and vinigar to clean and disinfect pots and trays, and often for leaves and cuttings as well.  We’d always used the “one to nine” ratio, but this question forced us to do a bit more research.  Here’s what we found.

First, “bleach is bleach”.  The active ingredient (sodium hypochlorite) is the same in all bleaches.  However, not all of what youcan buy is of the same strength–not all, or every brand of bleach, is the same.  Ultra Clorox, for example, is simply a more concentrated form of “regular” Clorox.  And your “generic” or “store brand” labels may be even less concentrated.  Look on the label to compare the concentrations of the active ingredient.  This will determine how much bleach you will need to use to effectively disinfect your pots.

Second, what is the recommended dilution?  According to the EPA service bulletin for Clorox, the proper dilution rate for “plant containers in nurseries” (among other things), for the purpose of “plant parasitic nematodes, plant disease-causing fungi and general surface disinfection” is an approximately .85% active ingredient diultion rate.  What does this mean?  Ultra Clorox, for example, contains 6% active ingredient.  When 1 part Ultra Clorox is mixed with 6 parts water, the dilution will be .85% (i.e. 6% divided by 7 total parts).  If your bleach is more dilute, mis with less water.  For example, our store brand bleach has about 3% active ingredient.  We would mix 1 part of this store brand with 2 parts of wter to achieve the proper dilution (i.e. 3% divided by 3.5 total parts).  If your bleach is more concentrated, dilute it more.

What about vinegar?  Vinegar does two things.  First, because it is acidic, and much of the “crust” or residue you find on old, used, pots is alkaline, it works very well to dissolve and clean away these.  We’ll often soak really hard-to-clean pots in a pure (or nearly so) solution of white vinegar to make old pots look new again.  Second, vinegar works well as a disinfectant, especially when used in combination with bleach–it makes the bleach even more effective as a disinfectant!  It’s been found that bleach (which is slightly alkaline) is a much more effective disinfectant when it is acidic (pH 6 to 6.8).  A recommened solution for household use, for example, would be a follows: 1 oz. bleach (6% dilution) added to one gallon water, then add 1 oz. white (5% distilled) vinegar.

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