Sunday, August 30, 2009

Timing is everything!

If you're growing your violets under artificial lighting and the light stand isn't plugged into a timer - go buy one!

Lights, camera, action! or How long do I leave my lights on?

If you've decided to grow your violets under artificial lighting you might be asking yourself (or me), "How long do I need to leave the lights on?" Personally, I believe 10 hours a day is more than adequate for the average grower who is growing for their personal satisfaction. If you exhibit your violets, 12-14 hours a day is sufficient.

However, if you're not seeing the bloom count you think you should be seeing or plants are reaching towards the light source, bump it up an hour and measure the results. Remember, make small changes and then measure the results.

Warm? White? What?

Hmmm? Let's see, I can buy Gro-Lux florescent light tubes for $8.00 to $10.00 each or I can buy Cool White or Warm White for $3.00 each? What do to, what to do? Well, the Gro-Lux cost more so they must be better for growing my violets - right?

Save your dead presidents and go the Cool White and Warm White route. Using a combination of one warm and one cool white in your fixtures provides the light spectrum your plants are looking for. If you prefer a lighting source that provides brighter light (more like natural sunlight), splurge and spend $3.50 each on Sunlight bulbs.

Light Stands on the cheap!

Yes, you can spend (as I have in the past) hundreds and hundreds of dollars ($700-$1,000) on professional plant stands. These are the four and five tiered varieties where each shelf is 4' long and approximately 24" wide. The professional light fixtures accommodate two florescent tubes (usually of the 40 watt variety) and the tubes are optimally spaced at 11" apart which maximizes light coverage over the 4' x 2' shelf that it is designed to illuminate.

The challenge with these professional carts is - most growers can't afford them! Ahhh, but there is an alternative to these very functional yet pricey stands. The answer can be found at your local Costco or Home Depot in the form of chrome plated food & beverage carts.

The last one I purchased at Costco set me back $84.00 (this is the cheapest I've found them). Then I head over to Home Depot and buy four (4) hanging florescent fixtures (these fixtures now come with the option of either 32 or 40 watt bulbs). I've been buying the 32 watt variety lately. Why? Just because. These hanging fixtures cost around $26.00 each ($104 for four). The light bulbs run around $6.00 for two so those will set you back another $24.00.

Total cost for this economy setup? $212...a far cry from $700!

You're so artificial!

Unless you have the luxury of owning a nice greenhouse, most of us don't have sufficient locations in our home that provide optimal light for growing African Violets (unless of course you're my friend Diane who had Anderson Windows add special windowsills to her windows - but that's another blog topic).

Artificial (fluorescent) lighting is a great alternative to expensive Anderson windowsills and allows you to grow your violets anywhere in the house. Read my blog, "Light Stands on the Cheap" to learn more about growing in artificial lighting.

I'm STARVING...what's for dinner?

If we fed our children as often as most African Violet growers feed their plants they'd be in jail for child neglect!

I'm not sure why a lot of growers feel fertilizing (feeding) their plants is an optional care activity - it isn't!

Make feeding your plants a no-brainer. Simply add 1/4 tsp of general fertilizer to a gallon of suitable water. Water your plants with this "fertilizer water" every time you water your plants. Store your unused fertilizer water under your sink (or other suitable location). Remember, if the water is cool/cold, warm it up a bit in a microwave safe container before watering your plants.

Nice foliage...but where are the blooms?

I do get a chuckle from folks who think violets are a great decorating accent on the coffee table. I will usually say something like, "Your violet has beautiful foliage - does it bloom?" The response is always the same, "it hasn't bloomed since I bought it."

Did you know the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result?

Violets must have a reasonable period of bright, indirect light in order to initiate a blooming cycle. Most coffee table locations don't meet that requirement. Ahhh! How about closer to a window. Now there is a novel idea.

Is it Saturday already?

That's the question I'll ask growers when I see that they are allowing their violets to sit in a dish of water. The question usually draws an odd look from the plants owner and I'll say, "It looks like you're giving it a bath so it must be Saturday!"

It's perfectly okay to water your plants from the bottom in a saucer - just don't let them sit in it! If you set a violet that is need of a drink in a dish of tepid water, the soil mass in the pot will hydrate within 10 minutes. So any water remaining in the dish after 10 minutes should be discarded.

When do I water my plants?

I do seem to get this question a lot too! My answer is simple - "When they're thirsty". If it seems like an overly simplified answer, it really isn't. But again, logic would dictate this to be true. When do you hydrate yourself? When you're thirsty...right?

The demise of most violets has some connection with over watering. Crown rot and root rot are two common ailments that can be associated with over watering.

Does the soil feel moist to the touch? If yes, then don't water. If it feels dry, give it a drink.

African Violet Society of America (AVSA)

Most popular plants have formalized societies associated to them and African Violets are no exception (thankfully).

The African Violet Society of America (AVSA) is a not for profit organization dedicated to the cultivation of African Violets. Membership is open to all interested individuals. Membership information can be found at Your annual membership includes a subscription to the African Violet Magazine (AVM) with articles on the culture and care of African Violets (along with some very nice color pictures.

Not a member? I'd encourage you to become one! :)

Pesticides - to use or not?

I'm not a big fan of using pesticides on my African Violets. That said, should a problem arise I evaluate how widespread the problem is and make an educated decision (spray or toss affected plants).

I do not use pesticides as a preventative measure. Personally, I think it's irresponsible...but that's my opinion. I recently had a customer of mine ask if she should begin spraying, and with what, as a preventative measure against pests and diseases.

I asked, "Do you take aspirin to prevent a headache?" "Do you take antibiotics to wart off a bacteria infection you don't have?" If you answered no, then use the same approach to your violets health that you do with your own!

What potting mix do you use?

I do get this question a lot and it's not a trade secret. I use Premier Pro-Mix BX. It's available at Orange County Farm Supply, (714) 978-6500, 1826 W Chapman Ave, Orange, CA 92868. The only challenge is it comes in a 3.8 cubic foot bag. They do ship! When I last had a bail shipped to me, it cost just about $50.00 (product and shipping). You can always share it with a friend and split the cost!

Try garden centers in your area, they may just carry it! If not, ask them to order it (if it's not cost prohibitive).

African Violet Supplies

Looking for pots, fertilizer, pesticides, plant trays, humidity domes and other supplies for your African Violets? Try Cape Cod Violetry. The service is fast, friendly and reliable...and the prices are good too!

You can email them at Just ask for a catalog in PDF format.

Vermiculte and Perlite

I really don't like to pay retail prices for anything - especially my violet supplies. If you've been to your local garden center you'll see that the price of vermiculite and perlite continues to climb. Most cities have centers that sell both products in 4 cubic foot bags. Yes, it's a lot if you're a windowsill grower but the cost of a 4 cubic foot bag is normally just a few dollars more than an 8 quart bag at your local garden center.

In the Denver, CO area you can purchase 4 cubic foot bags of each at American Clay Works, 857 Bryant St, Denver, CO 80204, (303) 534-4044.

If you're in the Orange County, CA area you can purchase both products at Orange County Farm Supply, (714) 978-6500, 1826 W Chapman Ave, Orange, CA 92868.

Air it out!

Did you know most water municipalities use chlorine to help treat your household water? The quantities are normally not large and are readily available for review in your annual water report but even small traces of chlorine can have adverse affects on your violets.

Fortunately, chlorine is readily discharged (evaporates) in open containers. If using your tap water to water your violets, pull the water and let it stand in an open (e.g. without the lid on the water jug) container for 24 hours. This will allow the chlorine to evaporate from the water.

Beware of Tap Water

Do you have a water softener in your home? Most of us do and it's great for bathing and washing our clothes. However, it's NOT okay to use water that has been processed through a water softener to water your African Violets. What to do?

If you have a reverse osmosis (RO) system then you've found your water source. Otherwise, go outside and draw your water from an outside faucet. Outside faucets are normally not attached to in-home water softeners.

Tepid water does the trick!

Did you know using tepid (warm) water is the best way to hydrate a potting mixture that has dried out too much? Warming it in the microwave (in a microwave safe container) for a bit is a quick and easy way to warm up water before watering your plants.

What's Blooming?

There's plenty blooming in the basement at the moment. Hawaiian Trail, standard chimera trailer, is quite striking. It's on the first plant stand that you see when you reach the bottom of the stairs to the basement.

Sunday is packing day!

I have a few orders to pack from last week and then I have LOTS of leaves to put down, watering to do and transplanting that needs to be done before I start my week away in LA.