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by Lillian Mahaney, AEMG
African violets seem to be the flowering houseplant that scares many people. In reality, they are probably one of the easiest of the flowering houseplants to grow. They have pretty simple needs and once you understand the basics, they will give you beautiful color for a great many years. When I lived in Florida I had over 20 African violets, and even with that many plants they were easy to care for and were gorgeous. When we moved to Michigan it was very difficult to give them away, but they went to a dear friend that “knew” violets and I know they had a great home.
African violets (Saintpaulia) are a genus of plants within the Gesneriad family. They were discovered in 1892 by Baron von St. Paul (hence the botanical name) and many species can still be found growing in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and Kenya.
The basics of African violet care:
- Environment: The ideal temperature range for violets is between 65 and 75 degrees, however, they will tolerate temperatures outside this range. They are not usually happy outdoors and will be healthier and more colorful indoors.
- Light: African violets need indirect light and can burn in direct sunlight. They do very well on a windowsill as long as there is plenty of indirect sunlight. Windowsills that face east or west are the best locations. Violets do best with 10-14 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness for the maximum amount of blooms.
- Water: Always use room temperature water and never cold water. African violets do not like water on their leaves, so watering from the bottom is the best. You can let the plant soak up water from a dish or saucer. Violets like to have their soil moist, but never soaked or sodden. Some people wait to water until the soil is “dry to the touch”.
- Feeding: I always fed my violets with an organic “balanced” formula (relatively equal amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and there are a number of formulas specifically for violets. African violets don’t really require much fertilizer and they can suffer from over-fertilization. Please follow the directions on the fertilizer carefully.
- Soil: Good drainage is essential in keeping your violet healthy. Use a commercial mix with at least 30-50% coarse vermiculite and/or perlite. Avoid soils that contain top soil or look excessively dark, thick and rich. Additives like compost or manure are not necessary and are too rich.
- African violets usually prefer “tight shoes” and actually prefer to be a little root bound. I very seldom found it necessary to repot my violets. Most standard African violets only need a 4”-5” pot at maturity. Minis and semi-minis need a pot no larger than 2 ½” at maturity.
- Humidity: African violets like a bit of humidity. The easiest way to keep them happy is to keep the plants on dishes or trays of pebbles that are kept moist.
- Container: It is essential that the pot have drainage holes. If you prefer a decorative hole-less ceramic pot just put the plant in a plastic container with drainage holes and place that container inside the ceramic pot. Remove the plastic pot from the ceramic one to water and do not replace it until the excess water has drained off.
I found a couple of interesting videos on YouTube: 6 Tips for Caring for African Violets and Repotting African Violets.
Also, there is an interesting online site to purchase unusual varieties: www.violetbarn.com Local nurseries and other outlets usually have beautiful violets and they are generally a very economical plant to purchase. There are so many colors and even trailing violets. Please give these sweet little gems a try and you will be surprised at how easy they are to grow and provide such beauty for many years.
by Nancy Denison, AEMG
At the library recently, I looked for The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (Random House,1998) in the fiction area but to my surprise, found it in Non-fiction. Still intrigued by the title and reviews, I dove in.
Orlean, a writer for magazines such as The New Yorker, Outside, and Vogue, tells the true tale of a unique character, John Laroche, charged with theft of rare, endangered orchids from the Fakahatchee Strand State Park in Florida. The book grew from Orlean’s story in the New Yorker which sprouted from a local Florida newspaper article. She weaves in orchid history and mystery, the family background of Laroche, the Seminole Tribe connection, and her own desire to see a Ghost orchid (Polyrrhiza lindenii).
I’ve always marveled at the beauty, shapes, and colors of the few orchids I have seen; but they never lived very long in my care and seemed to be a bit of a challenge to provide the right environment. The infatuation, expense, and time involved of the orchid lovers in this book blew me away. I enjoyed the book as it drew me in, taught me a few things and had the right amount of personal touch from Orlean. I’d love to visit the Fakahatchee sometime – like when there are no bugs; the sun is shining; I have a guide, waders, and a knife to take out any gators. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the photos of orchids I can find on the web and wait for Susan Orlean’s next book, The Library.