Friday, May 1, 2009

Consistent Care - Plants V

Back to plants for a bit! But first - How on God's Green Earth could it possibly by MAY???

There, now that I have that out of my system, big thanks to everyone who has said such nice things about my blog and the plants! Thank you all very much - I'm glad you are enjoying this little "series." :-)

What is consistent care? I've mentioned it numerous times in the past few plant posts. I keep mentioning it because it's really critical to having great plants. When African violets get watered haphazardly, or allowed to completely dry out until they wilt time after time, or if they get way too cold, or way too hot, or you don't repot them for a year or more, they may show what is called a "culture break." The care that violets receive is directly reflected in their foliage! And when you're growing for show, the foliage is just as -if not more - important than the blossoms! This photo is one of the first ones I took of Melodie Kimi before I repotted her. You can clearly see that a culture break happened between the oldest row of leaves and the next. The oldest (largest, at the outside of the rosette of leaves) is pale and the leaves show signs of haloing around the edges. They are also much longer/leggier than the inner rows. Now, I've grown Melodie Kimi for many years, and so I know her growth habit is a little loose rather than a tight rosette, still, the symmetry and obvious differences in the rows of leaves are clear markers of poor and inconsistent care.

I was taught that the difference between a good grower and a champion grower is that the champion grower checks his/her plants every single day. It's true. The times when I have been most successful with my plants have been when I was totally focused and checking them every single day.

But what if you don't have time to check them every day? Listen - no worries. You're not likely growing for show right now. You should probably give them a look and check for water at least 2 times a week. Give them a quarter turn (so they don't begin to lean into the light) every time you water, and you should be good to go.

Wait a minute, you mean that's all there is to it?! Well, yes and no. ;-) You knew there was a catch, didn't you. Well, not really a catch - consistent care is more than just watering every few days.

The easiest way to remember what African violets like is to think about what humans like. Really! Bright, indirect light (no baking in the hot sun in an unprotected South window); not to hot, not too cold; no drafts; and they don't like to have their feet wet for any great length of time. Here's the short list:
  • Watering - Geez, that's a post in itself. First off, let me just tell you that the most common cause of "violet death" is overwatering. Did you get that? :-) You can't just dump a bucket of water on the plant and let it sit in it for days at a time. It will be a swift demise if you do.

    What do I do? I run all my water through a Brita pitcher. I let it sit over night to let any gases evaporate out - this means that you need to be prepared and always have a gallon jug of water ready at any time. I use gallon milk jugs, and I usually have two ready to go - right now, I'm filling them again because I just watered this morning and used up the last of the plant water I had made up before I went on vacation last week.

    I check the pH of the water, which, where I live is quite high. I use an aquarium product called pH Down to lower the pH of my water to keep it at about 6.5 which is where the violets like it. You'll recall that I pot all my plants up with wicks. I don't communally water them, I have each plant in its own saucer and I usually water from the bottom.

    Do you have to water from the bottom? No, you don't, but that's why I have that wick in there - the capillary action of the wick will draw the water from the saucer up into the plant, getting right to the roots where it needs to be. And remember that layer of lava rock I put in the bottom of each pot? That helps keep roots from sitting in water. You can water from the top, and you should every now again, but when you do, be careful not to get water on the leaves, otherwise you'll have water spotting (go back and take a look at the leaf I posted of Gail and you'll see what I mean).

    The water should be room temp. Not hot, and for sure not cold. Whether you water from the top or the bottom, after about 20 minutes to half an hour, dump whatever's left in the saucer.

  • Fertilizer - for me this is kinda part of watering. I use Optimara African violet food. I use it about 1/2 to 1/4 strength added to every gallon of water I mix up. I use it at a lower strength because I do what's called "continuous feeding," meaning that my plants get some food in the water every time I water them. If you give them too much, you run into problems with fertilizer salts and buildup. So it seems to work best for me to lessen the strength and feed more often. I use Optimara brand because it does not have any urea in the fertilizer. If you're using a commercial mix that already has fertilizer in it, DO NOT add fertilizer to your water. Use plain old water, possibly adjusted for pH.
  • Light - African violets like bright indirect light. I grow mine on light carts, but again, I'm growing for show and need to be able to control the amount of light the plants get. When the plants are not on a pre-show schedule, I usually have the timers set so that they get about 12 hours of light every day. When I'm getting ready to go to show and the plants are on a pre-show schedule, they get more - gradually increasing over a period of time to about 14 to 16 hours of light a day.

    If you're growing your plants on a windowsill, they will be happy as clams. They may not bloom so much in the winter, but they will bloom more in the spring and summer. I have found that a Northeast window is practically ideal for African violets. If you have one in your kitchen or bathroom, so much the better - they will like the extra humidity :-)

Those are the big three, and the more consistent you are with them, the happier your plants will be.

Now that I'm growing for show again, I find myself checking every day - every second day at the most except when I'm out of town. I check to see if they need water - if the soil feels like a wrung out sponge, then they are OK. If it feels dry, they are thirsty. I also check to see if any of the plants are sending out blossom stalks to try to bloom. If they are, I disbud them. You might want to do this maybe once after you repot to give the leaves and roots a better chance to re-establish themselves before they expend energy to bloom. I will disbud from now until just before show time this fall.

Disbudding encourages the foliage to grow and become strong. Then, when you're ready for the plants to come into bloom, you stop disbudding - and usually get a tremendous head of blossoms :-) These were my plants ready to go to my first show about 8 or 9 years ago in Ventura, California. I put this in from Flickr - I hope it works! Show1

It's about time for a progress photo. I apologize because this is kind of hard to see. The section on the left was taken the day I did all the repotting (April 11, 2009). The three photo sections on the right are the same shelves all taken today, May 1, 2009, but the first two are from different angles. Even with the different angles I think that you can tell that the top shelf babies are all growing very nicely. The middle shelf is actually a reverse of the April shot - Again, you can see clearly how things have filled out, particularly in the two trailers that are in front on the right side. The bottom shelf on the right is taken from the same side as the the first photo. These plants are very happy now, and I'm going to have to start another shelf (this is actually a 4-shelf stand) because soon the plants are going to start touching each other - not what you want for show plants. They need enough room to grow out to their full potential.

So - look on that bottom right photo. The plant in the bottom left-hand corner, is Gail. The plant in the middle row, middle plant, is Melodie Kimi, and the plant in the top, right-hand corner (that's the back row, of that photo, on the right), is Mid-America. When you compare the April and May photos - you can already see that substantial growth has taken place - there is far less "white space" between each plant.
I'll keep you updated as we go along - and I'll take some progress shots along the way. :-)
And now some breaking knitting news: I frogged my St. Brigid. ======:-O It's not a bad thing, and it will be reknit shortly. I started the bigger size and realized - thankfully pretty quickly - that it was going to be too big. I'm not going to do all that cabling for a sweater that's going to swim on me.
And as KniftyRed said the other day, the class schedule is out for Stitches Midwest. I wasn't even sure I was going to go, and then today, my hard copy of the schedule arrived in the mail. I have no idea why I think I want to learn Kumihimo (the art of traditional Japanese Braiding), but I think I do. . .

1 comment:

candy t said...

Nice plants! I enjoy your violet tutorials.