Mel’s Tip #1

I have listened to many African violet enthusiasts talk about the vitamins and proteins they give their plants, and how they feed their plants over twenty different plant nutrients which are absolutely essential to the health of their plants. There are mixtures on the market which claim to contain all these “special” ingredients a plant needs, and they probably do. However, your plants will only use 16 specific nutrients (elements)-vitamins and proteins are not on the list. The sixteen are: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, boron, molybdenum, and chlorine. Other elements may be found in the plants but are not being used for any of the growth processes.

Mel’s Tip #2

The role of nitrogen is very important to your African violet. Depending on the age of the plant, there are different requirements for the amount needed. Young plants, seedlings, and plantlets just removed from a leaf cutting should receive a high amount of nitrogen. Nitrogen is responsible for causing rapid plant growth so the plants will reach maturity quicker and begin producing beautiful blossoms for your enjoyment.

When a plant reaches maturity and is ready to begin flowering it is time to reduce the amount of nitrogen they are receiving. High nitrogen applications will stimulate plant growth, while depressing flower production.

Summary: High nitrogen for young plants and low nitrogen for flowering plants.

Note: If you are into growing roses the use of nitrogen is the opposite of the advice given for African violets. Roses love high nitrogen and are profuse bloomers when they are feed 4 times a year with a high nitrogen fertilizer. About a cup of fertilizer per bush is generally recommended. The exact amount will depend on how high the percent of nitrogen is in the fertilizer.

Mel’s Tip #3

pH is a topic not easily understood by college students taking their first chemistry or horticulture course. There is no reason to worry about understanding the science behind this concept. Without getting into a technical discussion, let’s just go with the following: the ideal pH for a potting mixture for African violets (and most other plants) is in the range of 6.4 to 7.4, with 6.8 to 6.9 being perfect. These pHs are also ideal for promoting the growth of bacteria in the potting mixture. Bacteria assist in breaking down the plant nutrients into forms the plants can more readily absorb.

Usually most potting mixtures will be in pH range needed for healthy plant growth. Fertilizers have a major influence on the pH of the potting mixture, but that is the topic for a future tip.

If you mix up huge amounts of potting mixture and wonder what the pH is, send a sample to your state agriculture university’s soil testing laboratory.

Mel’s Tip #4

If you are relatively confident your plant has been infected with a virus, there is only one solution-toss it in the garbage immediately! Do not take a leaf cutting from the plant, as it will already be infected. Order a new plant from your favorite grower.

Mel’s Tip #5

When growing African violets under fluorescent lights there are three importance criteria to be considered: distance the plants are from the source of the light, location of plants beneath the light, and length of time the plants are exposed to the light. All three have a strong influence on how many blossoms your African violets will produce and how healthy the leaves and plants are.
In this tip I have provided a table from page 162 of African Violets: Queens of the Indoor Gardening Kingdom. Proper placement of your African violets under the lights plays a key role in their developing beautiful foliage and hundreds of blossoms for your pleasure.

Directly Under The Lights-Place the plants with:

  • dark green foliage
  • blue and purple blossoms
  • double petaled blossoms
  • boy-type foliage
  • young seedlings

Around The Outer Edges Of The Light-Place the plants with:

  • light green foliage
  • pink and white blossoms
  • single petaled blossoms
  • variegated leaf varieties
  • girl-type foliage

Note: When mature, the seedling plants should be moved to the proper location under the lights.

Mel’s Tip #6

Often the question is asked, “How is the best way to start new plants from a leaf cutting?” I personally have two favorite choices. The first, which I believe is the best choice, is to place the new leaf cutting into a 100%, non-compacted vermiculite rooting medium. Vermiculite allows the excess water to drain away easily, while holding sufficient amounts to sustain the healthy growth of the leaf cutting while it is developing roots and plantlets.

Vermiculite also releases small amounts of potassium which helps the leaf to ward off pathogens and physiological stresses. The second is to place the leaf cutting in water. As a plant scientist I have a fascination with wanting to watch how the leaf petiole (stem) develops roots and plantlets.

Either way works well and neither seems to have an advantage over the other when it comes to obtaining new plants from a leave cutting. You could make an argument there is less stress to the plantlets when transferring them from a vermiculite rooting medium into a potting mixture.

Mel’s Tip #7

In Tip #6 I mentioned “physiological stresses.” What are they? This is where the plants die because of incorrect cultural practices by enthusiastic growers.

There are many types of physiological stresses, such as: over or under watering, improper lighting, nutrient deficiencies, temperatures too high or too low, mechanical damage, petiole rot, ring spot (water spotting), drafts or any other type of stress which affects the health of an African violet.

Poor cultural practices are responsible for the death of more African violets than any other single cause, including: fungi, insects, and other pathogens.

Mel’s Tip #8

To top water or to bottom water-that is the question? And what is the answer? To me it usually depends on how many plants I have to water. If I only have a small number, say 8 to 10 plants, then I mostly top water them. When my collection contains several dozen and sometimes upwards to several hundred then bottom watering (wicks, mats, saucers) becomes a necessity. Using either method, the goal is to supply the water needed so the plants thrive and produce the beautiful flowers we all enjoy. (See Tip #9 for discussion on salts, as related to watering plants.)

Mel’s Tip #9

Salts. What is the source of them in potting mixtures? For the most part the salts come from two sources: fertilizers and water. There are also some salts in the ingredients used to form a potting mixture. However, the major source is the fertilizers you use to feed your Africa violets.

The best way to control the salts in a potting mixture is to water from the top, allowing the excess water to drain out the bottom of the pot. When doing this the excess water, called leachate, should be discarded as it is likely to be very high in salts. When watering from the bottom, regardless of the method use, it is important to periodically apply an excess amount of water from the top. This will flush the salts from the potting mixture. Again, discard this water.

Continually water from the bottom, without occasionally flushing the salts out, causes an accumulation of the salts on the surface of the potting mixture. This is especially a problem when growing African violets in clay pots. A crusty salty rim will form on the clay pots, easily leading to stem (petiole) rot.

>>>Read More: Best Pots For African Violets

Mel’s Tip #10

E.M. from Amarillo, Texas asked the following question:

I have a question for you on testing the pH of …. potting mixes. I don’t care for the litmus paper type of tests. For me it’s hard to be sure on the shades of color when they are close. So here’s what I’m trying and I’d love your thoughts. Is this all wrong or have I hit upon a good thing?

I use a digital pen to test the pH of my water and nutrient mix. The pen tells what’s up…no guessing about shades of color. As long as you keep it calibrated, the readings should be fine. I take my mix and get it wet (using water with a pH = 7) then let it sit for a day. Unless I’m checking the soil in potted plant then I just go on. I’ll water the plant or some mix until a get a little run off. I then test the run off with my pen. This seems to work or am I fooling myself and hoping it works.

Mel’s response:

pH is always an interesting topic. Most hobbyists do not pay close enough attention to it.

The use of the digital pens to test the pH is okay. I believe they will be most accurate when being used to check liquids. Using pH neutral water (distilled) is correct for calibrating the digital pens and this same water should be used when soaking the potting mixture or collecting the leachate for testing. Sounds like you are on the right path. Good luck. Below is some info from my book African Violets: Gifts from Nature. Hope you find the info useful.

From African Violets: Gifts from Nature.

“For maximum nutrient availability the pH should be in the range of 6.4 to 7.4. When the pH is out of balance in the potting mixture, it causes the following problems to occur: (1) many of the important nutrients become locked up in the growing medium, and the roots are unable to extract them for the plant’s use; nutritional starvation develops in the plants; (2) as the pH becomes extremely acid (approximately 5.0 or lower) or extremely alkaline (approximately 8.0 or higher) certain nutrients and chemicals found in a potting mixture become toxic to African violet plants. Four of the more common problem elements are: aluminum, manganese, boron, and sodium. Prolonged toxicity by any of these elements can actually kill an African violet plant; and (3) the microorganism population and its activity are greatly influenced by the pH. Microorganisms are responsible for the decomposition of the organic matter in the potting mixture and the breakdown of specific nutrient compounds into forms the roots can absorb. This includes the release of nutrients in the form of nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

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