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African Violets

April 29, 2017

QuestionI have a collection of about 16 African violets that I've had for many years.  A couple of weeks ago I started seeing white 'specks' on the leaves, and now I feel some stickiness when I remove spent flowers.  I guess it must be some kind of insect, but don't know what to do about it.  I know you aren't supposed to get the leaves wet if you can help it.  Any idea for me?  I appreciate any advice you can give me; I don't want to lose them all.



My first guess is mealy bugs.  They can cover their body with a small white cottony growth. They suck sap out of the foliage and release a sticky substance called honeydew. If you have only one or two plants affected, isolate them from the others.  If it is mealybugs, get a q-tip and dab each spot with a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.  Don't douse the foliage since as you know African violet leaves can be sensitive to being wet.  Do this as you see new areas.  The other major insect problem is cyclamen mites which can cause distorted foliage and are much more difficult to control.  If you want to take a sample of your damage either via a photo or a leaf into your local extension office they can help positively identify the problem.


January 28, 2017

QuestionMy mother always had a window full of African violets and they seemed to bloom almost year round.  I want to know what I should be doing to have flowers. I have some that never bloom and a few that have a bloom every now and then. Do I need special pots, fertilizer, what?  I think they get enough light.   


AnswerTypically if an African violet is not blooming it means it is not getting enough light.  Full morning sun is best, but they also do well under fluorescent lighting or the new grow lights. If light from the window is not working, try putting them under artificial light.  The plants need to be within 8-10 inches of the light source and it should be on for ten to twelve hours a day.  Most African violet growers fertilize frequently, but I would not do so more than once a month.  You can use African violet fertilizer or any water soluble fertilizer will work.  Most water from the bottom up using a special pot with a wick or cord that keeps the soil evenly moist, but you can water from the top, but avoid getting water on the foliage or it can cause spots.  They usually perform best if they are slightly pot-bound.  Make sure you don't upgrade them into a much larger pot, or the plant will spend its time putting out roots and not worry about blooming.


(April 2007)

QuestionI have a favorite African violet which I rescued from death in a super market years ago. The flowers are a lovely shade of pink, and are frilly around the edges, although they are single. It was a named variety, but I have always just called it "Frilly." As the old plant, which was second generation through leaf propagation, was appearing pretty elderly, I decided to pick another leaf, and grow another plant. I did the usual, putting the stem through a piece of aluminum foil into a glass of water, and setting it on the north windowsill. In time, the stem grew roots, and I potted it. Always before, one plant has grown from this arrangement. In this case, there were nine or ten! I separated and potted them. The "alpha pup," so to speak, began to bloom, and the blooms were just like those of the mother plant, of course. So are those of most of the others. But now, another of the other "pups" is blooming, and the blooms are very different. They are a much paler pink, close to white, with a touch of pink at the centers, and they are double! They have a second set of frilly petioles inside the first, in smaller size. They are very pretty, and I am pleased, but would like to know what happened. Is this a sport? Have you ever heard of a violet leaf having a whole litter like this? What gives?


AnswerTypically when we think of propagating a plant from a cutting, such as the leaf of an African violet, we think we are vegetatively propagating the plant, so we should get the exact same plant when it grows—all of the cells will have the same genetic make-up as the mother plant. . Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen with African violets. Some African violets are “chimeras”. That means that these plants have developed plant tissues where the individual cells are genetically different. Because of this, plants produced from leaf cuttings often are not identical to the plant from which the cutting were taken. The plants are considered “unstable”, meaning they won’t breed true. It is often the case with plants containing variegated leaves, two-tone flowers or those with frilly edges. So enjoy the diversity, and if you want to propagate the mother plant and guarantee the same plant, you must use divisions of the crown.

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