Monday, June 24, 2024

Plant Care

General suggestions.

Plants are living things.  They will tell you what you need if you listen.  Provide them what they need and they will grow well.  Doing this well means caring for them based on their needs, not yours.  Water when they need to be watered–there is no fixed “schedule”.  (Re)pot when they need it.  Provide more (or less) light based upon how it is growing and blooming (or not).  Feed it regularly–if it is growing, it needs to be fed.  Beyond the basic needs, the secret is consistency and moderation.  Be consistent in your care, and avoid the extremes–moist soil (not soggy nor dry), enough light for blooming (but not so much as to discolor or deform the foliage), moderate temperatures and humidity (if it’s too hot or cold for you, it’s the same for your plant).  A “balanced” fertilizer (avoid the extreme formulas)–a balanced diet makes for a healthy plant.  

Keep your plant area clean.  Remove dead or dying plant material.  If it’s not healthy or pretty, why leave it on the plant?  Provide your plants enough room to grow and develop normally.  Avoid overcrowding.  As most of us want to “grow everything”, this can be hard to do, but it will allow your plant to reach its full potential and minimize environmental and pest problems.  Have a habit of looking at your plants regularly.  You will spot problems sooner and be able to address them before plants become too stressed.  Besides, keeping them pretty means you will want to look at them, and pretty things like to be seen.

Light.

Adequate light is important for good growth and bloom.  Plants may survive in inadequate light, but will grow more slowly and not bloom well.  Any window that has strong, bright, light is good.  Try to provide bright light, but not hot sun.  Which window provides this will depend upon climate, season, and your particular home–there is no one, best answer.  Keep in mind that natural light changes depending upon season, climate, and geographical location.  Your plants will grow and bloom better, or worse, depending upon the light available at any given time and this will vary more under natural light (which mother nature controls) than under artifical light (which you can control).

Grown under artificial light, plants may constantly bloom.  There are many choices when it comes to artificial light.  Here are some general guidelines–start here and adjust based upon how your plants perform:

Florescent lighting.  The “skinnier” the bulb, the brighter it generally is.  A thin, T5 bulb might be twice as bright as a T8, and three or four times as bright as a fat T12 bulb.  Brightness will be measured in “lumens”.  For a 4 foot shelf, aim for a total of approximately 2,000 to 2,500 lumens.  Keep plants 12-18″ below the lights for 12-13 hours a day.  “Full spectrum” light is preferable, and but don’t get too confused over this or “kelvin” (K) values listed–this can get complicated.  Most important will be the light intensity.

LED lighting.  This is the most modern, efficient means of lighting, and it will come in many forms.  Tubes, or strips, are preferable, since they will light a larger area more efficiently.  Most won’t list lumens but will, instead, list “watts”.  As a guideline, for a 4 foot shelf (i.e. a 4 foot strip/tube), about 10 watts should be sufficient (same distance from lights and day length as above).   You may have many choices for the LED light color–“white”, “yellow”, “blue” or full spectrum  Full spectrum is best, though white is also a good choice.  Again, light intensity is more important than light color if you don’t have the options you want.

For any method, you can achieve the proper light any number, or combination of, ways.  Your plants don’t care how they get light, only that they get enough of it (and not too much).

Watering.

Use room-temperature water, watering when the soil suface is “dry to the touch”.  Plants such as streptocarpus, petrocosmea, and chirita, don’t like to be constantly wet.  Avoid letting thin-leaved plants, like begonias wilt.  Tap water is usually fine, assuming your town doesn’t draw it from a well (see next) or overly treat it with chemicals.  “Well water” will depend upon the source and how it may be filtered or treated, if at all.  Overly hard (alkaline) or soft (acid) water can affect health of plants over time.  “Softened” water is generally usable, but plants may show effects (from accumulated salts that may not be filtered out) over time.  Regular repotting (with fresh soil) is more important if water quality is not ideal.  “Pure” water, such as distilled, or reverse-osmosis (RO) water is ideal, but this can be expensive or inconvenient and will not be necessary for most homes.

Plants may be watered from the top, from the bottom, or by using wicks or other “constant” watering methods.  If using a self-watering pot or wicking, you MUST use a soil containing at least 50% perlite (like the “wicking” mix we sell).  Most commercially sold “African violet” mixes will not contain enough perlite for SW methods.  If watering from the bottom (i.e. saucers), be careful not to overwater young plants or those will root systems much smaller than the pot they are in.  Your goal for any watering method is evenly moist/wet, but not soggy, not dry.  Be careful, also not to overwater after repotting plants or potting into larger pots.  Again, your plants don’t care how they get watered, only that they get the proper amount of water when they need it.

Feeding.

Each watering, using a fertilizer with a “balanced” formula having relatively equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (the three numbers on the label are approximately the same).  “Bloom boosting” formulas aren’t necessary and deprive your plants of needed nitrogen.  Best to fertilize every watering, following the instructions provided on the container.  If using a self-watering method (AV pots or wicking), use fertilizer at no more than 1/2 the recommended strength.

Atmosphere.

Most African violets and gesneriads will thrive in the same conditions in which you are comfortable–not too hot nor too cold, with moderate humidity.  Ideally, this means between 60 and 80f degrees, though most will tolerate more extreme temperatures.  Streptocarpus, chirita, and petrocosmea will tolerate even lower temperatures and will be happy on a cold windowsill, while this should be avoided for episcia, which thrive in warm, humid, conditions.  Hoya, and many gesneriads like columnea and nematanthus, will bloom even better following periods of cooler temperatures.

Soil.

Use a peat-based, “soil-less” mix, consisting of at least 30-50% vermiculite and/or perlite.  “Violet” soils are not necessarily good for violets!  Go by the ingredients, not the label!  A  bag of good soil should feel like a nice, fluffy, soft, pillow.  Add more perlite to soil the wetter you plant on keeping the plant.  If wick-watering, using “violet pots”, or other self-watering method, you must use a mix containing at least 50% perlite!  A general rule:  the wetter you keep the soil, the more perlite it should contain, and vice versa.   The exact formula is an individual preference–whatever works for you in your conditions with your watering habits. 

Grooming.

Except for trailing (and some species) varieties, do not allow extra crowns, or “suckers” to form on violets.  This will only spoil that natural, flat, round appearance of the plant, and prevent it from blooming to its full potential.  Remove these suckers as soon as they appear and you know they aren’t flower buds.  Most violets look and bloom best with about 3-4 rows of leaves.  Most other generiads can be grown with multiple crowns and more leaves.  

To keep their appearance tidy and encourage blooming, don’t allow excessive growth of stolons on episcia and alsobia.  Occasional pruning of spreading plants like codonanthus, columnea, aeschynanthus, nematanthus, and other gesneriads suitable for baskets, will make for a “fuller” looking plant.  When kohleria get too tall or leggy, cut them back and let them branch out for a fuller look.  When sinningias get old or unsightly, cut them back, leaving just a bit of stem or pair of leaves above soil level–the tuber will then produce new growth.  Trim brown edges on leaves of plants like streptocarpus.  Remove spent blooms and old, yellowed, or unhealthy leaves.  Never remove old flower bracts on hoya, since it will rebloom from the same bract.  Remember, a clean plant is more likely to be pest and disease-free, as well.

Potting.

If receiving a standard African violet, pot into a 4″ pot when it begins to bloom or about 6 months after the date on the pot label.  Miniature violets can remain in their small pots.  Most plants will need repotting every 6-9 months.  Regular repotting will prevent the appearance of long “necks” that will become difficult to deal with later.   Use a pot no larger than 4 or 5″ for standard violets, and no larger than 2 1/2″ for miniatures.  Avoid deep pots.  For other, especially spreading, plants, pot into larger pots only as root growth necessitates.  General rule:  choose pot size based upon the size of the root system, not the size of the plant.  Only use larger pots when the root system of the plant is well established (not necessarily root “bound”) in its current pot.

When repotting violets, eliminate the stem, or “neck”, that appears above the soil by removing some soil from bottom of root ball, lowering the plant in the pot, then adding fresh soil at the top, covering the bare stem.  Other fast-growing plants that can develop longer stems, like episcia or kohleria, can be treated in the same way.  For all plants, never use pots significantly larger than their root system–this can lead to over-watering and root-rot.

Propagation.

Use very light rooting media, consisting mostly of perlite and/or vermiculite.  For violets, cut the leaf stem at 1/2″ and push down into moistened mix.  For streptocarpus, remove midrib from leaf and firmly insert two halves (center side) down into media, like “slices of bread in a toaster”.  Root tip cuttings of vining, shrub-like, plants, or upright-growing plants.  Root either tips, wedges, or leaves, of begonias.  Enclose cuttings in a clear, plastic bag or covered container until well-rooted.  Place in moderate light and pot “babies” when they are large enough for you to confidently handle.

About INSV, pests and disease.

Though this virus has been in existence for decades, it has become a recent concern amongst African violet growers and hobbyists.  A good synopsis of the disease can be found on the AVSA website.  Beginning November 2022, plants shipped by us have been (individually) tested negative for INSV or are selected from plants that have been (group) tested negative for INSV.  Random testing is performed on remaining stock on an ongoing basis.  Propagation is now being done from this same (negative tested) stock.   Plants even remotely suspected (even if not tested) of having INSV or other problems are discarded and are not listed for sale nor will be shipped.

INSV is trasmitted solely by fluid transfer.  The most common vector being thrips.  This means a plant with INSV may exist in a collection without consequence if there are no thrips or other means of transferring fluid (sap) between plants.  Though unlikely, it may also be possible by cutting tools, such as knives or scissors used on an infected plant then used on another.  Cleaning tools between plants will prevent transfer.  

As for other diseases and pests, each will present its own problems and solutions.  Some common conditions, like “powdery mildew” are nonfatal, quite common and environmentally caused.   Many others, like fungal problems and root rot, are the result of culture or care (watering and/or soil).  Not all pests are problems.  Some are beneficial (they eat other pests), or generally harmless (like fungus gnats or “soil mites”) and can be dealt with by changes in care or environment without use of chemicals.  Destructive pests, like cyclamen mite, mealy bugs, aphids, or thrips (to name a few), can be eradicated only by using chemicals or thoroughly cleaning and restarting the plant.  In every case, prevention is the best medicine.  One good rule: don’t “summer” plants outdoors!  Once a plant goes outside, it stays there.  Bringing it back it will inevitably bring in unwanted hitchikers!   Beyond this, good culture, environment, and growing habits will greatly minimize the likelihood of encountering them.

Still need help?  We want you to succed!

If you have difficulties growing your plant(s), please contact us for advice and/or problem solving. We are here to help.  We can be reached by phone (during business hours) or by email.  Email, with photos, name of variety, and an outline of care and environment will allow us to provide our best guess as to what might be the problem, and is the best way for us to understand the problem.

Sometimes, there is a problem with the plant itself, in which case a refund or reshipment may be necessary.  More often, there is an explanation in care, culture, or environment.  These can be easily addressed when dealt with in a timely way.  Please contact us BEFORE your plant is dead or dying, and problems can still be addressed.