What to Look For in Your First African Violet

Question:  I’d like to give growing African violets a go, but I’m very cautious about purchasing plants that aren’t mature.  Would you recommend these as “starter plants” for the newbie?  Are African violets good for people with little or no experience, like me, and which varieties are easier to care for?

Answer:  Our observations are that African violets are one of the easiest plants to grow, yet one of the most difficult to grow well (to perfection).  This is one of the reasons we choose to grow them, and why they are a good choice for both the novice to enjoy as a “house” plant, and for the grower that wants to be challenged, as a “show” plant.  Though we all like instant gratification, thre are advantages to starting with an immature, “starter” plant.  A larger, mature plant purchased in bloom, in the long run, is not necessarily easier to grow.  Those blooms won’t last long, especially after the sress of packaging and travel.  Further, both the starter and mature plants will need repotting, but the latter will need this done sooner, and may be more likely to suffer from the change in soil and environment.

It is important that you start with a healthy plant, form a responsible seller/grower.  We’ll often get calls asking for help from people who’ve purchased less than healthy plants at a discounted price from a local garden center, supermarket, or department store.  Usually, these retailers don’t actually grow these plants, just resell them.  They may have received them in less than perfect health, and those responsible for their short-term care often know little about African violets.  Their only interest is to keep them alive long enought to sell them.  Like anything else, be a smart shopper, and get your plants from those that know African violets, and grow their own plants.  Want a really good deal?  Join a local society!  Most will have leaf exchanges, club sales, or shows, as well as lots of other members who wouldn’t mind sharing leaves, plants, or advice, at little or no cost.

How to Ship a Plant

QuestionHow do you ship an African violet?

Answer:  This is something we get asked a lot at the shop. Though we do this as part of our business, it’s something anyone can do.  After all, many of our customers ask us to ship plants as gifts to relatives or friends, when they grow violets themselves, and could easily do the same.  Violets are fragile, but not as much as you might think.  With careful packing, they can be easily and safely shipped almost anywhere.  Here’s how we do it.

Since the package is certain to spend much of its time traveling “upside-down”, you need to keep the soil from coming out of the pot and making a huge mess of the plant and box.  We do this by making a plastic “collar” that we fit over the top of the pot, underneath the leaves.  Cut a piece of plastic (from a trash bag, for example) that is twice as big as the pot.  Cut a slit in the plastic from one edge, stopping at the center.  Then slide this over the surface of the soil, beneath the leaves.  The neck goes into the slit, so that the collar should slide easily and snugly around it.  Being sure the collar covers the soil completely, fold the edges over the pot rim and secure them with tape or rubber band (we use the latter) to the pot.  Next, find a sheet of stiff, yet soft, paper, twice as tall and wide as the plant’s diameter (we one or two sheets of newspaper).  Gently bending the leaves upwards, place the plant against the paper and roll it into a paper cone, leaving excess paper both above and below the plant.  Then seal both ends with tape or staples.  For plants too large to seal the top, we tape the pot to the paper when we are rolling it.  This will keep the pot from sliding out of the paper cone, and insulate it a bit.

Use a box that won’t be crushed when placed on the bottom of a pile of heavier boxes.  When placing the wrapped plants in your box, it is better to slightly overpack.  Be sure that whatever material that fills the remainder of the box won’t settle or move during shipment.  Pack as tightly as possible without crusing the plant, yet tightly enough so that the plant cannot move.  If shipping during unusually warm or cold weather, you might want to insulate the box–we line the interior with fiberglass insulation.  Label the box as very fragile, though you don’t need to mention its contents (in some states this only gives them an excuse to open and examine the contents).  Remember, too, that labeling isn’t a good substitute for good packing–your package will still spend time being tossed around.  Lastly, unless it’s being sent as a surprise, it might be a good idea to call ahead and tell the recipient of its arrival, so that it spends as little time as possible exposed to the weather on their front doorstep.

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