Saturday, April 11, 2009

Plants, Part II

Alrighty, then. Today is a fruitful day - what I mean by that, is that the phase of the moon is in a fruitful place. Planting by the phases of the moon - and using various moon signs - is a method of planting as old as the hills. Many farmers still do it - plenty of fishermen fish by them, and I try to work with my violets by them. Today, the moon is in Scorpio, a very fruitful sign, and although I got a late start (not until around 1 or so), I got more done than I anticipated.

Before I really get started into the details - I want to give you the same caveat that I give every time I give a talk or presentation about growing African violets, so here it is:
I am an experienced grower, and where violets are concerned I pretty much know what I'm talking about. HOWEVER, what works for me may not work the same way for you. There is a whole host of reasons why that could be. What I'm sharing with you is what works for me, and these practices are what work for many, many
people. My methods work for me in my home, with my water, my climate, my light
stands and my growing conditions, which are quite likely much different than
yours. So please keep that in mind as we go along. :-) And remember: if what
you're currently doing is working, then it ain't broke! Rock on!

Let's pick up with Gail - but first - here are some of the tools that I use when working with my plants. L-R, there's a Sharpie marker, a meat thermometer, an Xacto knife with a fresh blade, bend scissors, a flat dental tool, bent tweezers and a very soft paint brush. In back some sharp scissors, a roll of Mason's twine and a saucer with cut bits of Mason's twine. What most of these things are used for will become quite clear as we go along :-)

Next? Potting mix. I'm currently potting with something called a "pro-mix" potting mix. It's mostly peat, with some perlite, and I think there are some trace minerals. I was advised that I should "cook" this batch of soil because of the possibility of some fungus gnats - which are harmless, but irritating. So, I put some mix in a glass bowl and heated it in my microwave for 4 minutes - long enough to get the temp up to at least 180 degrees. That kills pretty much anything ;-) And that's what the meat thermometer was for.

Why don't I use commercial African violet soil? Well, I have, from time to time, but most AV potting mix now has fertilizer added to it. If you're growing to have plants in your house to enjoy, using that type of mix for your base is fine. But when you're growing for show, it's important that you have more control over the amount and type of fertilizer that your plants are going to get on a daily and weekly basis.

You can use commercial mixes, but for best success, you’re going to want to cut them about 1:1.5 with perlite. Most commercial mixes are strictly peat, which is great, but when it’s wet, it’s very heavy. Most African violet death occurs from over-watering. If the roots stay wet for any great length of time, the plant is going to rot away. To hopefully avoid that, you cut your mix with perlite :-)

Here’s the pro-mix I got. There was about 2 gallons in the bowl, I think (that’s not the right measure, but it’s close :-)) and next it is with some perlite added (2 cups). Then I added water until the mix was moist – like a wrung out sponge – and decided that it needed a little more perlite, so I added another 2 cups. You can see the difference (and if you click it to biggify it, you can really see the difference).

What next? Pots. African violets light to be in a shallow rather than deep pot. Ideal are what are called "azalea pots." A regular 4" pot that you would get from the store will be deeper than you would ideally want. This is a 4" azalea pot. That's the size pot that Gail was in - she's going back into the same size because I had to pot down her neck and clean her up so she'll have a better chance to grow well :-) Here's her pot, all washed and ready to go. Make SURE you have written the name of the plant and the date you potted (Oh, I'll never forget this plant, It's my favorite . . . Right. Until you inadvertently lose a label or forget to label, and then you don't know what the plant is until it blooms again . . . which will be months away . . .) I use a label maker for the first one, and then I use the Sharpie to update the date if I'm staying in the same size pot. I washed Gail's pot, updated the date, prepared the pot as shown below, and plopped her in - filling in with new potting mix. Read on!

I use a style of potting that is called modified Texas style. It's a long and silly story about why it's called that, and I won't bore you with it - you'll just have to take my word for it that this is modified Texas style :-) It's a little tough to see, but in the first view, there is a wick (that cut up Mason's twine :-) ) in the bottom of the pot that travels across the bottom and up the opposite side. Mason's twine is acrylic, which makes it perfect for wicking - don't use a cotton fiber - it will rot. The purpose of a wick is to draw water up through the bottom of the pot into the soil and to the roots of the plant.

The second view is out of order (sorry) so look at the last view - on the right. The pot has a about a 1/2" to 3/4" layer of coarse perlite, also called lava rock, on the bottom. This creates air space at the bottom of the pot and keeps your plant's roots from ever sitting in water. Next is the center view - a small layer of the potting mix.

Here is Gail before I repotted her - I've removed a few more of her leaves and now you can really see that nasty long neck.

This next photo is not for the faint of heart - but it's the best way for me to show you how to pot down a neck. An African violet will, over time, lose it's lowest row of leaves, that normal, but as you remove them, you begin to get this neck. If' you've been faithful and consistent in your daily and weekly care of your plants, you would have repotted Gail much sooner than I did. For standard violets, every six months is usually pretty good - for minis and semis, every three months.

OK, that's enough small talk. Here's Gail, slipped out of the pot where she was living. Clearly visible is part of the bottom layer of lava rock. Also clearly visible in the first view is some yellowish looking stuff on the top of the root ball - that's fertilizer salts - you want to get rid of that very top layer. You also want to scrape away with your thumbnail the brown "scabs" that have formed on the neck of the plant - they are quite visible in the photo one up, and you can see fresh green neck in the photo just above. You scrape the scabs away so the new roots will have an easy place to form.

The second view is Gail with enough of her root ball cut off to equal the amount of neck I'm going to pot down, and the top layer of potting mix removed. It looks a little crookedy, but that's an optical illusion - I made a pretty straight cut - you can cut it with sharp scissors, or you can cut with a steak knife or you can cut with your Xacto knife. Just remember that your HAND is there along with the root ball. If you stab yourself with the Xacto knife because you weren't paying attention. you're going to have to stop your potting activities and wait for your slice to heal - or you're going to have to put on rubber gloves for the rest of your activities in the dirt, which is a complete pain in the ass. You can ask me how I know, but I'm reasonably sure you already figured that part out ;-)

And here she is. all ready to go!

Don't tamp down the mix around the roots. You want some air space in there - I generally water in the mix so that the plant is set in the pot and not moving around. I use a squirt bottle with a long nozzle on it - and somehow I managed to not take a picture of it :-D Sorry.

I think that's enough for now :-) Next time I'll talk about putting a leaf down, and also re-starting a crown.

1 comment:

Bridget said...

Thank you so much for this info! I have African violets, and though I am not planning to show them, I appreciate knowing how to properly take care of them.

Now I know what I'll be doing over the next couple of days ...