How To Grow African Violets: A Southwest Collector Shares

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“Sell my wife anything she wants in the shop – except an African-violet plant!” This was the telephone call a nursery received from the husband of a woman who the African violet bug had bitten.

This same bug caught up with Mrs. Herbert S. Miller of Oklahoma City about seven years ago—since which time she has been growing saintpaulias (African Violet) in earnest.

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When Mrs. Miller began her hobby, it meant studying cultivation, housing conditions, and propagation methods, as well as evaluating new varieties and keeping behavior and propagation records of plants over a long period. They are all musts for having a healthy, steadily increasing, and interesting assemblage.

Mrs. Miller has experimented with soil mixtures for propagation purposes. She is using combinations of soil, sand, humus, and sponge rock. Since all are doing well, it would seem that any one of the mixtures is all right. 

After the leaf cuttings or plants are up. They are put in plastic boxes—in the same soil mixture—until large enough to pot.

Should there be too many plants for accommodation in the mini “greenhouses,” they are put in individual pots and covered for a few days with small glasses.

Mrs. Miller uses a little trick when potting. She puts the permanent soil only halfway, then fills it with the soil mixture used for starting the plants. This causes the roots to grow down to the permanent soil, and there is less suffering from shock.

Collectors Share: A Personal Journey of Raising African Violets in the Home

Water Propagation Method

Another propagation method sometimes used by Mrs. Miller is putting the African violet leaves in water until tiny roots appear, which usually requires from seven to ten days. Then the leaves are placed in a rooting medium.

She uses this propagation method the least because the plants experience more shock when transplanted than when first started in the rooting medium.

When she is given or only has plantlets with a smaller than normal size leaf, Mrs. Miller classifies them as “pre-matures” and places them in covered containers one-third to one-fourth full of planting medium.

Opening the receptacle and watering it is unnecessary. When the “premier” is 2″ inches tall, they are potted in permanent pots.

Related: African Violet Watering Methods and Wicks

There are two schools of thought about the size of pots to use when repotting. Mrs. Miller goes along with the one advocating a large enough pot, so plants have room enough to grow. Her potting containers, therefore, vary in size from 1 ¼ to 8” inches in diameter for the different size plants in her collection.

The number of leaves on rooted plants will vary from two to five before being planted. Every plant is labeled when potted. Records are kept about the results of propagation, and an alphabetical list of plants owned is also maintained.

Another interesting, successful experiment Mrs. Miller is conducting is planting small plants in the 5” inch pockets of a strawberry jar and keeping them covered with plastic until they are established.

Sphagnum moss is the planting medium used for the trial. The date of planting was May 19th. Four months later, the plants were growing vigorously.

Mrs. Miller also uses sea shells for decorative containers. Because of its good drainage qualities, Sphagnum moss is the planting medium. Constant checking for adequate moisture is necessary to keep the medium from drying.

Growing plants from seeds is another phase of Mrs. Miller’s hobby. In August, she planted some African violet seeds in a covered plastic box, using sphagnum moss as the germinating medium.

Practically all seeds came up and, in two weeks, were 2″ inches tall. On the same day, she planted an equal number of seeds in the starter mix with less favorable results—only four seedlings appeared.

Propagating African Violets By Plant Division

Plant division is another method of propagation used by Mrs. Miller. The plant must have multiple crowns or plants emanating from the soil. To accomplish the division, she removes the plant from the pot, leaving soil about the plant.

Then by a simple process of sawing or cutting off the new divisions with roots, established plants are gained. They are planted like mature plants.

Because every plant in Mrs. Miller’s collection is so healthy and vigorous, there has never been a problem with pests. She has found it unnecessary to use insecticides. Once in a great, great while, she will detect evidence of crown rot.

In such instances, the root is cut off at the soil level, and the plant is re-rooted in water. She prefers a Pyrex pie plate for this because it supports the leaves.

Every African violet collector takes pride in displaying his plants attractively. Mrs. Miller constructed a special room 12’ by 24’ feet, having numerous windows for light (adjoining the den) for her aggregation of plants.

In areas like Oklahoma, an African violet grower has the added problem of keeping plants cool during the summer.

To meet this difficulty, her plant room is air-conditioned with an evaporative cooler. Since the plants must be kept away from drafts, the cooler is placed on the wall lower than the plants.

On either side of the room are two-tiered open cases having shelves 18”, 14”, and 10” inches wide. At the rear of the lower shelf is space for storing equipment such as foil, markers, brush, and plastic straws (the latter two are used for grooming plants—brushing foliage and straightening leaves).

On stone window sills at the rear of the plant racks are galvanized trays filled with water to provide humidity.

Any plant collection will fluctuate, but Mrs. Miller’s assemblage averages 286 plants. About 25 percent of which she propagates herself. She has 243 varieties, about half of the newer ones. 

Four miniatures were also included. Mrs. Miller recommends growing them where space is limited because they grow slowly and stay small.

Tidying up a plant is one phase of caring for them. Mrs. Miller removes the pot from its receptacle and syringes the leaves with tepid water. Following this cleaning, the plants are kept away from the sun until completely dry.

44659 by Lona E.