Thursday, September 29, 2011

African Violet Tree?

Is your African violet looking more like a small tree, than a normal violet?  Does it look like the violet in the picture? I'm embarrassed to even admit that this is my violet. I have let this get too dry, then watered it too much too quickly, and should have re-potted it long ago. It's a miracle it's alive after the abuse it has received. I'm going to demonstrate, with pictures, how I rejuvenated this plant. When I'm done, it will be hard to believe it is the same plant.
Sad, neglected violet. 

Violet "trunk" with brown scabs, after removing dead leaves.
"Trunk" after being scraped with knife.
First,  I have removed any brown, dry leaves and mushy leaves.  The resulting stem or "trunk" is revealed. The plant is looking better, but still sad. The next step is to take a sharp knife and carefully scrape the trunk all around the entire length. This step gets rid of the brown scabs remaining after the leaves have been removed. 
You can see in the next picture, the brown scabby tissue is gone, leaving fresh green plant tissue.
Violet with root ball cut away.

Violet placed back in the same, clean pot.

Now, I remove the plant from its pot. I then take a knife and cut away approximately 1/2 of the root ball. I want to take away as much root ball as there is "trunk" length. So, for example, if  I have 1" of "trunk" showing, then I will cut away 1" of the soil ball. Sometimes the stem can be so long, the entire root ball may have to be removed. This is only necessary on a plant that has been allowed to grow a "trunk" for a very long time. The result of this drastic measure being, only a rosette of leaves and a short stem remain. The stem with the rosette of leaves, is then planted in a pot of soil, with the soil coming up to the bottom of the first set of leaves. The entire plant would then have to be placed in a plastic bag. This will allow the plant to recover and grow a whole new set of roots, as if in a miniature greenhouse. The plastic bag will keep the moisture in and  keep the plant from wilting. The plastic can be removed when the plant starts growing again.  One should never let their plant get this bad, but sometimes it happens.
After washing the pot the violet came out of, to remove any unwanted residue, I will re-pot the violet into the same pot. Most standard violets will never need a pot larger than 4", so I don't need to use a larger pot.
By cutting away a portion of the root ball, I then can plant the violet back in the same pot. Covering the stem with fresh soil will allow it to grow new roots and the violet will be like a whole new plant. I water it well, let it drain, and allow the foliage to dry. It is a fallacy that you can't get water on violet leaves. They need a shower once in a while, like any other plant. Leaving  the violet out of the direct light until it is dry is the secret. Also, use warm water, not cold. Cold water will leave marks on the leaves.

After re-potting.

Top view of re-potted violet.

Look at these two pictures. It doesn't in any way resemble the sad plant in the first picture. It looks like it just spent a day at the spa for plants. It came out refreshed, rejuvenated, and looking great. The last thing I did and it could have been done earlier, is the removal of any flowers or buds. The plant does not need to expend any energy on flowering at this time. It needs to use all its energy to make new roots. It's hard to see, but there is a flower bud to the left in the first re-potted picture. It is hard to cut potential flowers off, since that's really why we grow these plants, but it is better for the over-all health of the plant, to remove them.
I have a plant that looks new, fresh and will be blooming again in no time.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Violet Safari in Ohio

Winners stage
This year is the third year I've been to the Ohio State African Violet show and sale at Kingwood Center in Mansfield, Ohio. This event is held at one of the most beautiful botanical gardens I've been to. ( More about that later.) The show and sale is all about Afican violets and their gesneriad cousins. More than one commercial grower is there, including Lyndon Lyon and the Violet Barn. They have the newest violet hybrids and many other plants, including miniature houseplants. Many people have their "wish lists" with them, hoping to find the one they've been looking for.  There are also other vendors with many of  the supplies needed to grow violets, including soil, pots, chemicals, and tools. The room with their booths is where the money is spent........
First place winning streptocarpus
Natural garden
Underwater design.

Unusual streptocarpus.
Violet in an unusual container.
Beautiful design
.... but, in another room, is where the blue ribbons are fought for, and won. The judged show is very interesting. Trying to figure out what the judges are thinking when they award blue, red, and white ribbons, is a challenge in itself and a learning experience. . Best of show, best of class, the sweepstakes award, are all coveted awards. These plants are the best of the best. There are different categories, including design classes, terrariums, dish gardens, and natural gardens. Plus all the different gesneriad classes, including streptocarpus, kohleria, chiritas, sinningias, espiscia, and petrocosmea, and, of course, African violets. The designs are created keeping the theme in mind. This year's theme was Violet Safari.
The secrets of the growers winning the blue ribbons are what I want to know. What soil mix do they use? What lights do they use, and how long are they on? What fertilizer do they prefer? How often do they apply it, and at what strength? The nice thing is, most of these people are more than happy to talk about their plants, and their process for getting them to the blue ribbon level. They love their plants and telling you all about them. Joining an African violet club is the best way to learn all you need to know about growing violets. Find one in your area and join. You will meet wonderful people and will learn more than you thought there was to know about violets and their relatives.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Flowering Maple

Abutilon hybrid
Flowering maple, or Abutilon is a beautiful container plant. It is a profuse flowering plant, as long as it has plenty of sun. The papery bells hang down and look beautiful with the light shining through them. They can grow to be quite sizeable plants if allowed to, but can be controlled with pruning, which has the added bonus of making the plant flower more. They look great in a mixed container planting in the summer, or as a single specimen. They make great houseplants, as long as you can give them enough light.

When bringing it in for the winter, if it has been outside for the summer, make sure to check  for unwanted guests. This plant is a whitefly magnet. It also can be a host for scale, spider mites, and mealybugs. Treating it with a systemic insecticide is a must. Keep checking it for a month or more after bringing it in to make sure all generations are killed.
Of course, the name would imply it is a maple, but it isn't related to the genus Acer. They do have maple-like leaves, though, thus the common name. Abutilons are in the mallow or Malvaceae family. They like to be kept evenly moist, but in my experience, can be revived, even after wilting from thirst. This isn't the best way to keep track of when to water.
The flowers of the abutilon are so papery and beautiful. They seem like they would be fragile, but really aren't. The veining on them makes them unique and stunning. They come in many colors, including the orange seen here, (my favorite) and also in yellow, pink, and white. 'Thompsonii' has variegated foliage, while megapotamicum, or trailing abutilon, has bi-colored flowers on long hanging branches.
No matter which color or variety chosen, you won't be disappointed. Flowering maple or Abutilons are wonderful plants.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Great Grandma's Fern

Jan. 2011 Before "surgery"
When I was married 26 years ago, I inherited a family heirloom~a fern. My mom gave me a piece of her fern, received from my great grandma, Alice Gustafson Eldred, at her bridal shower in 1957. She still has her fern after 54 years, and has given countless pieces of it away to friends and family. I'm not sure how many are still out there, but mine is going strong.
This was not the case a few months ago. I'm not sure how long ago I divided the fern or even moved it to another container. I do know it had been at least been 13 years, as I've lived in this house that long and have never touched it. Here is the before picture:
May 2011 After "surgery"
I decided it was so overgrown and so unhealthy, that if I didn't do something soon, it would die. It took a long time for me to get up the courage to divide it. I only ripped it apart because I knew Mom still had her fern and I could get a piece of it.  I didn't take during "surgery" pictures, but wish I had. I used a very sharp serrated knife and cut it up into many pieces. The roots only filled 1/2  of the container it was in. The top 1/2 was brown dead fronds. I don't know how it was even alive at this point. There really wasn't much salvageable fern left. All of the green, live part of the fern was growing on top of this old, brown growth.  I took slices of it and buried all the brown part with some roots attached. The container was a 12" hideous white plastic pot. Needless to say, it did not return to that pot. Here is the after "surgery" picture:
Pretty sad, and more of the fronds died after this picture. I was sure I had killed it.  I started thinking that returning it to such a large pot might not have been such a good idea. I watered it very sparingly and used Superthrive in the water with some Jack's Classic 20-20-20 mixed in for good measure. I think there might have been a couple of prayers thrown in.
September 2011
I was pleasantly surprised when  new fronds started appearing. It is looking great now and here is the current picture of my prized fern. As you can see, the interesting thing about this fern, is the fact that it has fronds with regular Boston fern leaflets and also ones with very finely cut leaflets. Sometimes they are even on the same frond. Its very unusual and I'm not really sure of the cultivar name. It is a beautiful fern and I'm so glad to have something that has been in our family for so long.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Kissin' Cousins

Kohleria 'Peridots Mango Martini'
Recently, I attended my African violet club meeting, and the speaker introduced us to some cousins of the African Violet. The subject was rhizomatous gesneriads and the one that I came home with is a kohleria. I love it! This is my first kohleria, but I do have experience with its cousins, African violets and streptocarpus. I'm assuming this will require similar growing conditions. I have researched it and  found they are from Central and South America, and prefer high humidity and warm temperatures. It's cousins also prefer warmth and humidity. They also have fuzzy leaves. The big difference is obviously the rhizomatous properties of this plant. They grow from scaly rhizomes under the soil and new plants can pop up from the base of the plant. Propagation can be accomplished by separating the rhizomes and also by foliar tip cuttings.  The plants can go dormant for short periods of time, so don't throw them away. Wait, and foliage will reappear. Kohlerias are fast, vigorous growers and so must be cut back occasionally to help with fuller growth and at the same time, it will promote more flowers. They prefer filtered sunlight or should be placed under fluorescent lights that are on for 14-16 hours per day. If the light is too low, or the room too warm, they will get spindly.
This tubular, speckled flowered, fuzzy leaved plant has me hooked and I can't wait to see how it grows and if I can keep it healthy and happy.