Esprit de Isle

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African Violets Advanced Care

AFRICAN VIOLETS: Advanced Care

Most likely, your African violets will flourish and provide many years of enjoyment with their beautiful flowers. Truly, they require little more than proper watering, a fertilizer boost once in a while, and adequate light. Most home environments provide the perfect atmosphere that encourages them to perform to the max. African violets are easy to propagate by leaf cuttings so you can always have some to share with friends. They are equally at home in an office, your living room, or a care facility.

When grouped together in full bloom, your friends will gape in amazement and envy! They are even more striking when displayed with orchids as shown on right.

But, like all living and growing things, they must take a rest in between active blooming seasons. As they appear to go into dormancy, you should give them a "once over" and see what you can do to ensure they will remain healthy as they prepare for another season of producing their beautiful blossoms!

A COMMON PROBLEM

A common problem and one that's relatively easy to fix is having a plant that outgrows it's pot! This often happens when you've grown a new plant from a leaf and it begins to mature into a healthy, productive bloomer. In this case, you may simply choose a new pot that is an inch or so larger than the one it is in.  Remove the plant from the old pot and massage the soil around the roots to loosen and partially free the roots. Prepare the new pot by adding fresh potting soil; set the plant inside the new pot and carefully add soil around it, gently tamping it around the roots. You may mix old soil with new soil as you cover the roots up to the base of the leaves. Again, very gently pat the soil down around the plant being careful not to mash or break any of the leaves and roots. Then give it a light watering and it should be good to go!

TOP-HEAVY CROWN

Nothing better than a healthy old plant that unfailingly produced beautiful flowers with little or minimum care! However, they will reach a point where they may need a little surgery! African violets seldom, if ever, become "root bound". But a healthy root system may cause the plant to become top heavy! Here's one that's been in the same pot for about 5 years. As the old leaves have aged and withered, new leaves do not sprout out so the main plant stalk turns into a thick, woody stem. The actual root system will be way down in the pot, at the end of that woody stem, and the part of the stem that has the leaves and flowers may be a couple of inches above the soil! The weight of the crown will cause the stem to bend down and curl around on top of the dirt. When this happens, it's time for a little pruning. (Incidentally, this plant is also the one shown above right - note the yellow pot!)

This very healthy African violet is going into a dormant period after blooming for almost 6 months. The long brown "root" is now holding the crown almost 3 inches above the soil level. We've inserted a sharp bladed kitchen knife along the inside of the pot and gently loosened the soil all the way around. Then we removed loose soil and, with our fingers, carefully removed the entire plant from the pot. Still in the dirt (root ball) is another 4-5 inches of the woody stalk/root, curved and curled. What looks like dry, brown roots in the photo, are actually dried leaf stems that withered and fell off.

With our sharp knife, we performed a little amputation and severed the root stem 3 inches from the bottom of the healthy leaves. Since there are no roots to support this plant if planted in soil, we must encourage the stem to produce new roots. It's simply a matter of setting the stem in a suitable container of water until new roots form at the end of the stem. Then the whole plant will be repotted.

OVER WATERED PLANT

Remember the cautions about improper watering? Here's one of my own that I overwatered for months! Yes, even Esprit makes major boo-boos in caring for plants! But, our mistake is a sharing opportunity to help others who might make the same mistake.

The mistake began by replanting this African violet in a pot that had no drainage hole. The top of the soil seemed dry so this plant received its weekly watering until we noticed that it was definitely drooping and had a dull look. The center crown of leaves were not perky; it was growing new leaves, but they stayed small and close in. Since the pot had no drainage, the water was just pooling around the plant and it was not thriving. In fact, it was just plain water logged!

After draining the excess water from the pot, we removed the whole plant and turned it upside down to assess the root system. Unlike the above example of the healthy old plant, this one had almost NO roots! Just a very small amount of fine, hairy threads barely under the surface of the soil. You can see, it looks pretty sick!

Obviously, surgery is not in order THIS time, so it was simply a matter of choosing a new pot with a nice drainage hole, and filling it almost to the top with a fresh mixture of African violet potting soil. Then, after pinching off a few of the lower leaves that were not healthy looking, we carefully set the plant on top of the dirt and added more around the base of the plant until the sparse roots were covered. We pressed the soil down and continued to add soil while gently tamping it around the plant. Since the new soil was fairly dry, we added enough water to moisten it well around the top of the pot, but no more!

Here we are in a brand new pot with fresh potting mix. We'll keep tabs on this plant and continue to give it a light watering until it recovers. It will probably take a couple of weeks to see signs of improvement but we are confident that it will soon be thriving and displaying its lovely purple blossoms!

Watch for the update on this sick plant!