Washing African violets

Question:  I have some very dirty violets.  Can I wash them?

Answer:  Sure, just be gentle.  First, find a working area and sink that is large enough for you to handle your plants without damaging them or making a huge mess.  A sink with a sprayer attachment, and easily controlled water flow and water temperature, is best.  Next, you want to keep the soil from making a muddy mess of the plant.  We find it best to do this when the soil is already moist.  Dry soil tends to fall out of the pot too easily when it’s tipped.  If you can’t fit your hands beneath the leaves and over the pot, you might want to make a plastic “collar” that fits around the plant’s neck and over the pot rim.

Collect all of your plants to be washed, so that once you find the right water temperature and pressure, you don’t have to turn off the water while searching for the next plant.  Use room temperature or slightly warmer water–ideally, water the same temperature as the leaves themselves.  The water pressure should be just strong enough to wash away the dirt without damaging the foliage.  Tip the plant, holding it a bit on its side, so that the water runs off of the foliage and into the sink, not into the pot.  Work from the center of the plant outwards, so that the dirt is washed off of the plant, and not into its center.  If you need to, you can use a mild soap, like Ivory.  Collect some soap suds on your fingertips and very gently “suds up” the foliage by carefully rubbing it between your fingers.  Be sure to thoroughly wash the plant of the soap after doing this.  When done, blot the excess water from the plant, especially the center, with a soft cloth or towel that won’t shed lint onto the plant (like some facial or toilet tissues).  Place in a warm, protected, area away from direct sunlight and cold drafts.

Having said all of this, you should never need to wash a violet.  Most people see the shiny foliage on our plants and assume that we wash our violets, but we almost never do.  For one thing, washing a large showplant can be a lot of work, and can do more damage than good if not done very carefully.  We prefer to regularly (once every few weeks) brush each plant’s leaves with a very soft bristle brush.  If a violet isn’t allowed to stay dirty, it won’t need to be washed!

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