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An Old-World Favorite: The African Violet

 

African violets can be a welcome sight inside the home but did you know that they have a unique history that starts in the late 18th century.  Baron Walter von St. Paul was strolling through the West African wilderness when he came upon a beautifully blooming plant.  He was so taken back by this plant that he sent plant samples and seeds home to Germany.

Once in Germany, the beauty of the plant became apparent and by the early 1900’s could be found throughout Europe.  This plant then spread throughout the world.

Then, in the late 1920’s a Los Angeles nursery of Armacost and Rosten started breeding African violets.  They were able to create blue violet and purple flowers but this was just the beginning.

Today, plant breeding has created different types of flowers, leaves and even growth habits.

African violet flowers can now be in a rainbow of colors, which includes blue, purple, red-violet, orchid, lavender, red pink, white, bi-color and multi-colored.  Blooms can also be in different shapes, such as single, double, semi-double, star-shaped, fringed, and ruffled.

Leaves of the African violet have also been bred to take different shapes and includes plain, ruffled, fringed, scalloped, spooned, pointed, and variegated.

African violets come in four sizes that are defined by the American Violet Society.  These sizes include miniature (less then 6 inches), semi-miniature (6 to 8 inches in diameter), standard (8 to 16 inches in diameter), and large (over 16 inches).

In 1984, violet seeds were taken up into space through the violet seed space program.  This program took 25,000 optimara seeds into space by way of the NASA space shuttle.  The seeds were stored aboard the Long Duration Exposure facility (LDEF).  While they were only supposed to orbit the Earth for one year, they ended up in space for six years.

Today, African violets can be purchased that were grown from the violet seed space program.

Growth Requirements

African violets need at least 12 hours of sunlight for proper bloom.  They like to be placed in a north or eastern facing window but if that is not possible there is another choice.  African violets do well under artificial lights.  Fluorescent lights place eight inches above the plants for 12 to 16 hours a day is enough to force the plant to bloom.

Room temperature is also important.  African violets like a temperature of 65 to 80 degrees F.  If the room is too cool, leaves will darken and wither.  If the room is too hot, the plant will slow down its growth.

Watering is another challenge.  African violets like a water temperature that is around room temp.  This plant does not like to have “wet feet” or wet roots.  To prevent this, always check the soil one inch down.  If you pull your finger up from the soil and find soil on it, then the soil is moist enough.  If on the other hand, you remove a clean finger, then the plant needs to be watered.

The African violet can be watered in three different methods.  The first method is through the top but be careful when using this approach.  African violets do not like to have their leaves wet and as a matter of fact water splashed up on the leaves can cause spots or even death of the leaf.  Another approach is to water from the bottom.  This is done by placing the pot the African violet is in into a saucer of water.  Allow the plant to sit in the water for up to 30 minutes.  After this time period has passed, pour out any remaining water in the saucer.

The third way is through wick watering.  This type of watering consists of placing a wick inside the container.  The part of the wick that sticks out from the bottom of the pot is then placed into a saucer of water.  The difference between wick and bottom watering is the fact that the bottom of the pot never touches the water in wick watering.  Instead, the wick picks up the water and carries it to the pot.

If you use either bottom or wick watering, one will need to top water once in a while.  This will prevent salts from building up in the soil.

When it comes to the soil, African violets like a loose, porous, fertile soil or soilless mix.  The soil pH needs to be 6.0 to 6.5.

This plant loves to be fed often with a fertilizer formula of 14-12-14.  But make sure to flush out the soil often to prevent salt buildup.

African violets do not have many pest or disease problems.  Mites and mealybugs are two insects that can be found on this plant.  Both can be taken care of with a sprits of soapy water, alcohol soaked swabs or miticide.

Plant diseases include powdery mildew and crown rot.  Proper watering and plant spacing can prevent both of these problems.

African violets are a beautiful plant that can bring color into the home of even those with brown thumbs.

 

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Gardening-tip:



Lady Beetles

Commonly known as Lady Bugs, eat aphids, mealybugs and many different types of insect eggs.

If you want to use them as beneficials in your garden, release them at night, or keep them in their wire topped containers for a day or so before release.

Either technique will help keep them in the area, and working on your specific insect problems, instead of just flying away.


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