How Long Will African Violets Live?

Question:  How long will my violet live?

Answer:  Indefinitely, if properly cared for.  Just keep providing your violet with good care and regularly repot it.  Violets have incredible survival instincts, if given half a chance.  Ethel Champion, a nearby grower and longtime AVSA member, has the old violet that we know of.  Her plant of ‘Superman’ dates back to the 1950’s.  Even at that age, it still occasionally appears in our local club shows!

Geneva Edged Blooms

Question:  I’ve seen some varieties described as “Geneva” edged.  What does this mean?

Answer:  This simply means having a blossom with petals edged in white.  The term originates from ‘Lady Geneva’, the first variety having blooms with this distinctive white edge.  It was a sport (i.e. deviation from its parent) of ‘Blue Boy’, one of the earliest hybrid violets.  The thickness of geneva edging is variable, and is easily influenced by cultural conditions, particularly temperature.  Varieties described as having a “pencilled” (or thin) edge often lose the edging in very warm conditions

Trailing African Violets

Question:  I’ve seen trailers described as pendulous, spreading, naturally trailing, and semitrailing.  Could you tell me the difference?  How should they be grown?

Answer:  These are terms adopted by some hybridizers and growers to describe the growth habits of trailing varieties.  Unfortunately, these will differ somewhat amongst growers and catalog listings.  This is partly because hybridizers don’t adequately, or accurately, describe their hybrids.  Also, growth habit can be influenced by the individual grower–even if the variety is predisposed to grow differently.  We’ve had customers show us their “trailing” violets–not a trailer at all, but one that had been allowed to sucker, develop multiple crowns, and which had never been repotted.  After a number of years, the necks were long enough to appear to be trailing over the sides of the pot.  Though this plant was trailing, it wasn’t a “trailer”.

“Naturally” trailing and “semitrailing” should refer to the way in which the violet is genetically predisposed to grow–i.e. not as a result of grower intervention.  A semitrailing variety will most often grow in a shrub-like manner, with most of the branching growth being vertical.  A naturally trailing variety will produce branching growth in a more horizontal manner–growing out along the soil surface, rather than up.  In addition, though semitrailers often require pinching to induce a good trailing habit, naturally trailing varieties typically are more freely branching.

Naturally trailing varieties more easily lend themselves to being grown in hanging baskets (pendulous) or as ground covers (spreading) since, by nature, they will grow more horizontally.  To grow as a “ground cover”, gradually move the plant into larger pots, so that branches, or runners, can grow along the soil surface.  Be sure never to use a pot more than 3″ deep since, though the plant will continue to spread, its roots will never grow deeper than this.  If a deeper pot is used, fill the bottom with perlite or other drainage material.    To grow as a hanging basket, don’t go to a wider pot to accommodate the longer runner/branches–when they reach the pot’s edge they’ll begin to grow over the sides and hang!  If’ you’ve got good window light, trailers can be spectacular grown this way.  The trailing species violets grow very nicely as hanging plants.  We’ve grown S. pendula kizarae in a window this way, and S. magungensis var. minima makes an excellent miniature trailer grown in either a saucer or hanging basket.

Semitrailers, on the other hand, will tend to grow as a small “shrub” in the middle of a wide, shallow, pot, since more of its growth will be vertical.  These varieties look best when grown as small, bushy shrubs, rather than as ground covers or hanging plants.  Use a pot only large enough to accommodate the plant–don’t overpot expecting to see runners that won’t be produced.

Decorating African Violets as Party Favors

Question:  I am going to use violets you are sending as table favors at a party.  They come in plastic posts, but I like the appearance of terra cotta, so am thinking of repotting them.  If this isn’t possible, I’d like to wrap the pots in decorative foil or paper.  Any advice?

Answer:  The last thing you want to do as you’re preparing an event is repot small flowering plants!  It’s messy, time consuming and, unless you’re really careful (and experienced), likely to damage the plants.  Since appearance is what’s most important here, it’s simpler just to place the potted plant into a pot of the same size, but desired appearance.  Find a terra cotta pot only very slightly larger than the pot the plant is currently in.  The “slip” the terra cotta pot over the outside of the plastic pot you’re hiding.  It will have the same appearance without the problems of repotting.

As for decorating with foil or paper, we suggest doing the following.  Assuming the wrapping material used can retain a shape, wrap an empty pot of the same size used for the potted plant, using it as a “mold”.  Make as many decorative coverings as needed, then slip the potted plants into them just prior to the even.  One last thing.  If plants are overly wet, tape over the drainage holes or insert a small piece of plastic inside the outer pot or wrapper.  This will keep the plants from “bleeding” water onto the table cloth in front of your guests!

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