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 fact sheets - African Violets
INTRODUCTION

The African Violet (or its botanical name Saintpaulia) was dicovered in Africa. Cultivation became so popular that in the year 1946 The African Violet Society of America was formed with a nation wide membership following.

WHY GROW AFRICAN VIOLETS?
Have you ever attended an African Violet show? The scene of masses of potted plants on rows and rows of tables showing off all their beauty and glory of flowers is a sight well worth seeing.


(left to right) - Wonderland, Ode To Beauty, Rainbow Quiet Riot, Dathyn

African Violets

Encourage your children to grow African Violets for a hobby and further down the track they might end up joining the AFRICAN VIOLET SOCIETY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA INC.
I have known many parents who end up joining and working with their children's hobby. What a way to have something in common in this day and age.

GROWING CONDITIONS

LIGHT
African Violets are cultivated for their very appealing flowers and foliage. Good light is the most important factor for the growth of healthy plants. It is essential that they receive as much light as possible, but defiantly no direct sunlight. They should be placed close to a window which receives good light during most of the daylight hours. Windows facing North or South are the best because they receive good light all day. African Violets in East or West facing windows must have some protection from the sun's direct rays both morning and afternoon throughout the summer months.
African Violets will bloom continuously given good light, but because the hours of light are reduced during the winter months, as well as the intensity, there will be fewer blooms at this time of the year.
The more serious growers use fluorescent lights because there is full control over the light; and in addition, they can then be grown in most situations in the home. Twin fluorescent tubes are used, placed between 20 and 30 cms above the foliage with lights on for 10 to 11 hours during the daylight hours. All plants must have a period of darkness and African Violets need at least 8 hours.

WARMTH
African Violets are tropical plants and they need warmth to grow successfully. Their ideal temperature is in the mid 20's. However, they will grow reasonable well outside that range, but will not tolerate a temperature below 12 degrees Celsius for any length of time. They also dislike big fluctuations in temperature, but this does not normally occur in the home and it is best to remove them from the window during cold nights. Be sure that they are not kept in draughty areas or in the direct path of an airconditioner outlet.

WATERING
Never use soft water as it increases the saline content. This will alter both the pH and the electrical conductivity of the soil, thereby decreasing your African violet's ability to absorb water and nutrients. Avoid using highly chlorinated tap water. If you can smell chlorine, don't use it. The repercussions of using water with too much chlorine in it include leaf burn and diminished flowering. If no other supply is available, place some water into a container and let it stand overnight to allow the chlorine gas to escape.
Rainwater is best, so let the water stand for some hours to reach room temperature before watering the plant
Cold water will chill and damage the plant's roots. When the water is too cold, it chills the roots of African Violets, causing leaves to curl down as the water is absorbed into the plant. It is always critical not to get water on the leaves. The only exception to this is when you are spray misting for intentions of increasing the humidity around the plants. Fine misting will not leave behind the big water globules which, when exposed to the sun or lights, will cause brown spots on the leaves.
Watering can be from the top or bottom or by self-watering methods if the potting mix is suitable. The frequencies of watering will depend on the potting mix, the size of the pot and the temperature. The mix should be kept moist, but not wet. The general rule, as with most plants, is to wait until the surface is dry, water thoroughly, and do not water again until the surface is again dry. African violets need only sufficient water to keep the soil moist, but never soggy. Too much water will leave your African violets susceptible to root rot and crown rot.
Over watering can also cause de-nitrification, a condition, which prevents plants from getting the nitrogen they need.

FERTILISING
This is done on a continuous basis with every watering session. There are many types of African Violet fertilisers to choose from, ask your garden expert for a good proprietary brand and apply at 1/8 (one eighth) recommended strength. Nothing is gained by adding extra fertiliser apart from damage to your violet.
When choosing a violet food, make sure that it is 100 percent water-soluble. This is important for two reasons:
1/ If violet food is not 100 percent water-soluble, the African Violet plant may not be able to absorb all of the elements.
2/ You cannot use non -soluble fertiliser in self-watering devices. When using one of these devices the elements can only be drawn into the soil if they are fully dissolved.

GROWTH CONTROL
African Violets will grow as flat rosette-type plants provided they are kept to a single crown. Any side shoots appearing from the main stem must be removed as soon as they are seen; to prevent the plant from becoming a mass of leaves, pointing mainly upwards. Flowering will be greatly reduced because the lack of light will prevent bud formation.
Plants must be rotated regularly to prevent them from growing towards the light and becoming lopsided. Remove old and yellowing leaves from the bottom row, as these serve no useful purpose and spoil the look of the plant.

STARTING YOUR OWN PLANTS

PROPAGATION
Propagation is from a leaf, one that has almost finished growing, usually from about the third row from the centre of the plant. Try not to spoil the shape of the plant when removing a leaf for propagation. Make the cut clean and do not crush the leaf stem. The leaf stem is cut about 2.5 cm (1") long and inserted into the potting mix almost to the leaf blade. Use a dibber to make a hole in the probagation mix for your cutting stem to go into. Using this method will help to prevent the leaf stem from being broken or bruised. Your dibber can be made from a fine piece of doweling or a small, fine bamboo stake.
Keep the mix moist, not wet, and it should produce baby plants in from 2 to 4 months, depending on temperature. These are then separated into individual plants, when they are about 5 cm tall, and potted into small pots, taking care each one is in the centre of the pot with the main stem upright.
Use a fertiliser high in nitrogen for young plants, and it is best not to allow them to flower until they are about 15 to 20 cm in diameter.
Flower stems are removed as soon as they appear on young plants. This allows the plant to use all its energy to produce a larger plant and, eventually, more flowers.

GROWING YOUR AFRICAN VIOLET IN A CONTAINER

POTTING
African Violets prefer shallow pots and do not like being over potted, especially when you want plenty of blooms. Use a 2" pot for the baby plants and pot them into squat pots when the leaf span is about 3 times the diameter of the pot it is in, and the leaves should extend beyond the rim of the new pot.

POTTING MIX
A light open potting mix which retains moisture, and allows plenty of air around the roots, is best. To make up your own mix, use 3 parts by volume of peat moss, 2 parts grade 3 Vermiculite and two parts granulated polystyrene. Dolomite is added to obtain a pH of 6.5, approximately a teaspoon to the gallon of mix depending on the pH of the peat.
Most garden centres carry African Violet potting mixes, but make sure that you select a good reliable brand. Some cheap varieties are heavy and compact, making watering an exacting business, with many African Violets lost through over watering. This type is not ideal for wick or other self-watering systems practised by most Society members.

IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER.

1/ Do not over-crowd your African Violets. Allow plenty of space between them for good circulation of air around them. The lack of air circulation around the plants, especially when the humidity is high, will introduce powdery mildew.
2/ To keep the leaves clean, use a soft small brush, sweeping from the centre outwards.
3/ Warm water will not damage leaves unless they are placed in strong light before they dry.
4/ Do not place cut flowers from your garden near your violets, as you will possibly introduce thrips, aphids, or mites. Most pests are easily eradicated using suitable sprays, except for mites which can easily ruin your Violet before you are aware of their presence. In this case, take a good leaf and start again. Most sprays or even water will damage blooms.
5/ They must be kept out of draughts.
6/ When selecting your plant, examine it closely to make sure that it's healthy and free from disease.
7/ Remove all spent flowers to encourage repeat blooming.
8/ Only use special African Violet potting mix.
9/ Any attempt to grow African Violets outdoors will certainly result in failure, mainly due to the extreme fluctuations of temperatures, plus the difficulty in controlling insects that can be devastating to their well being.
10 If an African Violet does not get enough light, it will cease flowering and its leaves will begin to turn yellow. African violet which are not getting enough light will become lanky and will produce elongated leaves and stems.

This information has been compiled with the help of the AFRICAN VIOLET SOCIETY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA INC.



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