If you should ask Mrs. Edith Waller her secret with propagating African violets. she will most likely say: “Why anyone can raise them—just give them a little time and attention.” She should know as she has successfully raised, hybridized, and even sold African-violet plants for the past ten years—just by giving them a little time and attention.
For an amateur, Mrs. Waller raises her African violets on a grandiose scale. Behind her home stand two greenhouses —one, the smaller, houses some several thousand seedlings, leaf-cuttings, and young plants.
In the larger one, she grows close to 500 mature plants, including four wild species from Tanganyika—Saintpaulia orbicularis, S. tongwensis, S. ionantha, and S. grotei. S. grotei, incidentally, she raised from seed shipped from East Africa. All the species have pale blue flowers.
Her collection includes many varieties and colors, some of them her hybrids.
African violets like warm, humid conditions. Her greenhouses are never allowed to drop below 60° in winter. In caring for African Violets during summer, when temperatures rise too high for good growth, she adds more shading to the greenhouse glass.
Opens the lower ventilators and also uses cooling fans. In the larger greenhouse, she also has a “fogger” that sprays a fine mist of water into the air when the humidity drops.
Fertilization is all-important. Mrs. Waller believes, and she has experimented with many soluble kinds. She likes the ones which contain trace elements. She fertilizes every three weeks and avoids over-fertilization, which forces foliage and decreases blooming.
Mrs. Waller use to prepares her potting soil from oak leaf mold she screens through a ¼ inch mesh and mixes with soil, sand, and peat moss. Now she purchases bagged African Violet soil mix.
To the soil mix she adds 1 cup of bonemeal; 1 cup of pea-sized ground charcoal, and 1 cup of sponge rock. She lets the completed mixture alone for several days before using it.
Mrs. Waller’s smaller or “growing” greenhouse is a wondrous storehouse of African violets. In it, she has seedlings—so small they must be viewed through a magnifying glass—planted in an equal mixture of vermiculite, and peat moss. Everything, she again points out, is sterilized, even the containers. As the seedlings develop, she transfers them to larger pots.
Mrs. Waller uses plastic flats for both seedlings and leaf cuttings. She finds the lightweight flats easy to handle. As the African violets seedlings grow, so does the size pot in which they are planted until they are ultimately put in 4-inch clay pots. All the pots sit in beds of gravel or vermiculite.
Hybridizing, Mrs. Waller finds, is most fascinating. Mrs. Waller removes pollen from the anthers of one plant and crosses it on the pistil of another. Some growers use brushes or toothpicks for this process, but Mrs. Waller uses her thumbnail.
Since the African violet has both male and female parts, it always has pollen. Some plants, however, may be sterile and a cross is impossible. Usually, she says, she can tell within a week when a cross has taken for “the flower looks different and you can see the pods starting to form.”
Of the hundreds of plants Mrs. Waller has, she likes to show off some of her pets: a semi-double white and orchid; A pink, with ruffled edge foliage; Candy, a semi-double with a light blue frosted edge—a semi-miniature; A rainbow of white with orchid edging; another with a puff of light blue double flowers, and one she calls Penny, a single white with purple streaks.
Every one of Mrs. Waller’s African-violet plants has beautiful foliage and perfectly formed flowers. “Never had a sick day in their lives,” Mrs. Waller laughs but agrees that their healthy appearance is no accident but a result of constant vigilance and care.
Every ten days she sprays with an all-purpose insecticide as a precaution against sucking insects—thrips, mealybug, cyclamen mite, and others—for the African violet is extremely susceptible to all of these.
Mrs. Walter prefers rainwater for watering when it is available. Before she uses tap water she places it in containers and allows it to remain in front of the greenhouse heater for twenty-four hours. Never does she use cold water or water which has gone through a chemical softening process.
For that nursing along a few plants or who have yet to buy one, Mrs. Waller passes along a few tips:
“First,” she cautions, “if you already have plants and buy another, isolate the new plant for a month as a precaution against cyclamen mites which can infect all other plants.”
Collectors Share: Can Anyone Grow African Violet Plants?
Preparing Soil Mixture
For those wishing to prepare their soil mixture (most of the ingredients can be purchased at a nursery or garden center or through mail-order sources), Mrs. Waller says that small amounts can be sterilized in the oven or a pressure cooker. For oven sterilization, place the earth mixture in a flat container and bake for two hours at 180°.
In a pressure cooker, sterilize for twenty minutes at 15 pounds pressure. After the mixture is sterilized, it should be emptied into another container, taken outside, mixed with the charcoal and sponge rock, and aerated. In a few days, the completed mixture will be ready for use.
Mrs. Waller recommends placing African violets in a north or east window. If placed in a south window with no overhang, she suggests a window lining or curtains to shield them from the hot sun.
African-violets, she points out, like early morning—but not hot—sunshine. Plants should be kept in saucers of moist gravel, never left standing in water. If plants are in glazed containers, they should be watered every two weeks. She, herself, prefers to place clay pots within glazed containers.
For a symmetrical plant, Mrs. Wailer suggests giving them a quarter turn every other day as they tend to lean toward the light. This, however, is not a problem in the greenhouse where the light comes from overhead.
One of the nicest things about African violets, Mrs. Waller says, is the fact that they bloom all the year-’round —or will with proper care. They grow faster and leaf cuttings take more rapidly in spring, but plants bloom better in winter and early spring.
She believes firmly that African violets are well worth the time and attention lavished on them.
44659 by Rae V. Youngdale