African Violets and Other Gesneriads
and Other Gesneriads are
the most popular indoor house plants. They bloom year long and come in an
abundance of colors, sizes, and types. Other gesneriads such as episcias,
chiritas, streptocarpus, gloxinias, and sinningias to name a few, have
different blooming characteristics, and are very exciting to grow. Treat
gesneriads as you would any African violet giving them similar care.
Natural Light Adequate light
is the most
important factor in promoting blossoms. Place the plants near any window
that has bright, but filtered, light. An east window is good because
plants do very well in the light of the morning sun.
Fluorescent Light If you use a light stand,
use double tube fixtures, have the lights on 12 to 14 hours a day, and
place the plants so the foliage is about 8 to 10 inches below the tubes.
If you have a cubical in an office lighted with fluorescent lights, put
your plants on top of your partitions.
Watering Over watering is the most common
reason plants don’t do well. They may be watered from the top, the
bottom or by wicking. Use room temperature water, and add water when the
top of the soil feels slightly dry to the touch. Wait about 1 week before
watering them again. Reverse osmosis units or rain water are fine sources
of water for your plants. If your house has a water softening system, do
NOT use tap water on your plants–the salt in the water will kill them.
Use your untreated water obtained from an outdoor spigot which is usually
bypassed from the water softening system,
of fertilizer or too infrequent fertilizing is another of the primary
reasons for lack of blossoms. Mix a commercial African violet fertilizer
at a quarter the proportion called for in the manufacturer’s brochure if
wick watering. If it calls for 1 teaspoon per gallon of water, use 1/4
teaspoon per gallon of water. African violet fertilizers typically contain
12-36-14 parts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium which is optimum. Be
consistent in your regiment from week to week.
If you are comfortable–not too cold, not too hot, not too dry–your
plants will thrive. Fresh air with gentle circulation (no drafts) and a
relative humidity of 40 to 50 percent. Daytime temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees; nighttime
temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees with a 10 degree day-night
difference. Variegated varieties prefer cooler temperatures to keep their
variegation–so go with 70 degrees days and 60 degrees nights.
of the commercial potting mixes sold today are the "soilless"
type. This means the mix is light and airy to allow easy root
growth. Many of our members have found that these mixes are too
heavy and dilute them 3 parts commercial mix to 1 part medium
horticultural grade perlite. Make sure you buy a top quality mix
especially formulated for African violets. If you want to make
your own mix, here are three popular varieties. One -
Hortense Pittman’s "Texas" formula: 5 gallons
sterilized fine peat moss, 5 gallons coarse horticultural grade
vermiculite, 2 ½ gallons coarse horticultural grade perlite, 1
cup crushed horticultural grade charcoal, 5 quarts of water, 1
teaspoon frittered trace elements, and 1 cup of pulverized
dolomite lime. Two - Marie Burns’ "Show" mix:
5 gallons Baccto African Violet Soil, 3 gallons coarse
horticultural grade perlite, 1 gallon sterilized fine peat moss,
2 gallons coarse horticultural grade vermiculite, 6 cups
horticultural grade charcoal, 1 cup dehydrated cow manure, 2
tablespoons Ferban, and 10 tablespoons dolomite lime. Three -
Fisher’s Soil Formula from Canada: 2 quarts sterilized
clay loam (garden loam or top soil), 2 quarts perlite, 2 quarts
medium or coarse vermiculite, 2 quarts fine chip horticultural
charcoal, 8 quarts sphagnum peat moss (screened to remove sticks
or buy fine screened). Mix separately the following: 1 cup bone
meal, 1 cup calcium carbonate OR dolomite lime powder (not
granular), and 1 tablespoon Fermate or Ferbam. Combine the above
ingredients with about a half a gallon of water.
properly groomed, fresh, clean African violet or other gesneriad
is a pleasure to behold. Keep dead leaves and faded blossoms
removed. With a soft brush, flick away soil particles, lint,
animal hairs, etc., or damp-wipe the foliage with a soft wet
sponge. About once a month, the foliage can be washed under a
gently stream of tepid water. Pat excess water with a soft
sponge or tissue. Allow the plant to dry in a warm draft-free
place away from direct sunlight.
violets and other gesneriads are very palatable plants as more
than 50 species of insects and mites have been found feeding on
them. Remember to quarantine new plants for 60 to 90 days after
purchase in the event they have bugs, before you combine them
with your primary collection. Keep in mind many pesticides on
the market have not been specifically tested on African violets,
and may not work as they do with other house plants or kill
them. Always read the label to make sure the pesticide can be
safely used on African violets, and follow those instructions
precisely. The best source of information on pests and
pesticides is published by AVSA in, Insect and Mite Pests of
African Violets by Dr. Charles L. Cole, $15; and the Handbook
For Growers, Exhibitors, and Judges, $12.25. Call AVSA at
(409) 839-4725 to order them.