Streptocarpus: Too Much Bloom?

Question:  I recently purchased a young Streptocarpus from you in a 2″ pot.  It started blooming for me almost immediately in this small pot.  The problem is, the plant itself hasn’t seemed to grow very much since I got it.  Even though it’s blooming, am I doing something wrong?

Answer:  Streptocarpus are one of the easiest to grow and most rewarding of all gesneriads you can grow.  They can be very tolerant of neglect, and given the same conditions as African violets, will bloom almost constantly.  We’ve grown streps that have been in bloom (or bud) every day for five years or more.  Their readiness to bloom, though, can be a problem, especially for those varieties that are especially eager to flower.  There are some varieties that bloom before they’ve “matured”–before much foliage has fully developed.  When this happens, all of the plant’s energies are diverted away from foliage production and towards bloom production.  This can result in some pretty odd-looking plants.  Two examples are ‘Bristol’s X-ray Vision’ and ‘Bristol’s Sunset’, hybrids of ours that seem to want to bloom after having produced only one leaf in the pot.  Left alone, they’ll sit there with one lonely leaf in a tiny pot and a full head of 6 or 8 flowers or more.  Eventually, of course, they’ll bloom themselves out, leaving old, yet undeveloped, foliage that is unattractive and can barely sustain itself.

Our solution is to not allow these plants to bloom until they have produced enough foliage an matured enough to sustain both foliage and flowers.  We simply cut off flower stems before they have a chance to develop.  This forces the plant to produce more leaves, larger leaves, and produce them faster.  When the plant is finally allowed to bloom, it will bloom even more heavily than it would have, had it not been disbudded.  As a general rule, we don’t allow streps to bloom until we’ve potted them into 3″ pots.  Except for the smaller growers, most varieties will eventually grow into 5″ (or larger) pots when fully mature.

We do the same for our violets, removing the first set of flower buds that appear.  This allow the plant to develop more fully before first bloom.  This means waiting a few more weeks, but it also means that when the plant does bloom, it produces a full head of bloom and a more developed plant.  The plant is happier, and the reward is worth the wait.

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