Sunday, April 5, 2009

My Plants . . .

In addition to my knitting and spinning, I raise African violets.

Actually, the violets came first, and at one time I grew more than 115 varieties. But that was years ago - I found that when I have more than 50 varieties, nothing and no one is happy. At one time I was involved at the national level with the African Violet Society of America - the AVSA, but I'm not any longer. I have been involved in some capacity with the Illinois African Violet Society - IAVS, since I moved home from Southern California about 5 1/2 years ago. For a time I was a member of the Hoosier African Violet Society, but the drive and timing became an issue for me - still, it's a great club, and if you're anywhere around Crown Point, Indiana, I recommend them!

Anyway - I have downsized my plants over the past two years until I now have around 35 varieties. Doesn't seem like too many to me, but I haven't been taking very good care of them. However, in the last month, I've been bitten by the plant bug again, and have taken a good look at my stands . . . they are not a pretty site. I'm actually embarrassed to share these photos with you - but if my plants' recovery from serious neglect can help another grower, it will be good.

So - what really prompted this? Well, I was notified that the Illinois State African violet show, which in years past has always been a spring show, will be happening this fall, in September, at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. That got me thinking - plus, it's spring, and who doesn't like to get their hands in the dirt in the spring? Hmmmm - maybe that's only me.

Anywho - I'm not an outdoor gardener like Linda the Chicken Lady and like most of my family. I'm an indoor gardener. I have been an outdoor gardener, I mean, I know how, my mom was a champion outdoor gardener and you can't really avoid knowing how to garden when you have a champion gardener for your mom :-) I have enjoyed it in the past, but now that I have asthma, working in the yard isn't very good for me. But I've always been an indoor gardener. I've had a love of houseplants since I was in high school.

For as green a thumb as I have, my first college efforts with African violets were dismal at best, and I didn't try them again until probably about 15 years ago. I was at the Jewel one day (the local grocery store), and they had these three African violets, and I decided it could just NOT be rocket science to grow them. I brought them home, and thus began a serious love affair. I discovered the AVSA and their wonderful magazine, I even bought my first plant stand, a small 1' x 2' 2-shelf stand. It lives in my basement - I keep it for an isolation stand :-)

I never had very many plants back then, and I although I could get them to grow, I didn't really know all that much about them - and then things got crowded in my studio. I moved to Southern California with my then-husband, and one of the things I insisted on taking was my plant stand, and the two violets I had left.

Bringing plants in to California can be dicey. We did have to stop, and as I watched the agricultural agent grab my violets by the crowns and yank them out of the pots "looking for pests," I thought I would expire. But they made it, and soon, I had my little stand set back up and I began growing plants in earnest.

Fast forward to now - I've entered my share of shows - even won a Best in Show - I'm an Advanced Judge for the AVSA, and have held various positions in a number of the organizations I mentioned earlier.

And right now, my plants look like crap.

This has been a hell of a winter - everything has powdery mildew. What's that? Powdery Mildew falls into the category of Parasitic and Infectious Diseases. It's a fungus that appears suddenly, can spread rapidly and can be aggravated by poor ventilation, high humidity and fluctuating temperatures. In my experience, it's the poor ventilation and fluctuating temps that do it. Thankfully it's pretty easily taken care of with better, more consistent care, and a spray of fungicide. The one I use is called Fung-Away.

On this leaf you can see water spots, but you can also see some powdery mildew.

Here's a better shot.
If you look closely, you'll see that the outer leaves of this plant have a dusty look. That's powdery mildew. This is one of my favorite plants, Gail. Yes, they have names - but I didn't name them :-D Gail is an older variety, hybridized by Max Maas. Gail was registered in 1975, so it qualifies as a "vintage violet." Gail is a standard (I grow mainly standards), and it has a pretty simple description: "Double dark rose. Longifolia." The double dark rose refers to its blossoms, and the Longifolia refers to the foliage. Longifolia foliage is defined as: "Narrow pointed strap-like leaves with either plain or wavy edges. Although the center growth on this plant looks pretty good, you'll have to take my word for it that it's pretty stunted. This is from poor and inconsistent care.

Here's another view of powdery mildew. This is Mid-America. It's in way better physical shape than Gail is (apparently it can survive quite well even with terrible neglect) but it, too is suffering with powdery mildew. The mildew is clearly visible on pretty much every leaf in the outer ring of leaves.

I spent some time removing spent leaves and disbudding everything a few days ago. This morning, everything got a good spray of Fung-Away, and when I repot next weekend, all the affected leaves will be removed.

I have violets that look like palm trees - trust me this is not good. Here's Gail again - I'm holding up one of the leaves - take a good look and you'll see a neck that's about an inch and a half long. This is not good. You also can see a split leaf - another not good.

I'm going to document my work with Gail in the next few months and hopefully she'll make a great comeback in plenty of time for the show in September.

One other that I'll follow is Melodie Kimi. This is a small standard, and one of my my all-time favorites - here is its official description: "Single white sticktite pansy/purple-blue top petals, tips. Medium green, plain, quilted wavy."

Kimi doesn't have much mildew (some plants are more susceptible to it than others), but she's got some serious symmetry issues and, although you can't see it in this view, a neck like a giraffe.

And there are plants that are still in the pots they came home in last year from the national convention. That's Fresh Air - a stunner - and it's still in the pot it came in - I didn't even repot it into my own mix . . . and it has a sucker. See that little plantlet in the foreground? That's a sucker. It will be removed.

There are plantlets that I propagated from leaves that have needed to be separated for at least 6 months.

I could go on - but I'll spare you the rest of the gory details.

I hope you'll check back from time to time to see their progress :-) and if you'd like to see some of these plants in better days, please visit my Flickr photos.


Linda said...

Great topic! I hope some budding African Violet grower out there [double entendre sort of unintentional] finds this. It would help them a lot! Keep posting about your efforts with Gail, for sure.

The Knitted Squirrel said...

Good Luck with your plants. I look forward to seeing them in their blooming glory!

candy t said...

Good tutorial! I enjoyed the Flickr photos.

Anonymous said...

Great info. I will be following your plants progress and am looking forward to learning a lot about growing African Violets which I love but have no idea how to take care of. And how cool is it that there is one that shares my name! :-)