HOW TO GROW SAINTPAULIA (African violet)

In recent years the African violet has become one of the most popular house-plants. It certainly has much to offer. It is an ideal size, neat and compact. making an excellent gift plant. The foliage is attractive and the flowers are extremely beautiful, dainty and borne freely over a very long period. It grows well in the average home, and if well cared for will live for a very long time. There are about 12 species of saint-paulia. but those grown as houseplants are progeny of.S. ionantha, native to coastal Tanzania. This plant has beautiful single, vivid purple-blue flowers, very violet-like, and with contrasting bright golden-yellow eyes. The flowers are produced nearly the year round. The leaves are oval and of velvety texture. It is delightful to grow, and there are now some excellent improved seed strains.

The ‘Fairy Tale’ group are F, hybrids and give flowers in the characteristic vivid blue of the species, rich pink, and while. ‘Amethyst’ is also outstanding. It is not difficult to grow these hybrids from seed sown under window-sill conditions. The seedlings have F, hybrid vigour and grow quickly. When sowing. use a good seed compost and do not cover the line seed – it germinates better if exposed to light, but not direct sunlight. For good germination a temperature of 1S-21 deg C (65-70 deg F) is best. From an early sowing, on a window-sill of a warm room, it is possible to have flowering plants the first year, from autumn onwards.

The number of named cultivars is now enormous. There are now flowers in a wide range of colours, embracing pure white through various shades of pink. carmine and red. to mauves. purples and blues. There are bicoloured flowers and some with picotee-edged petals, and they may be single, semi-double or fully double. There are also forms with fancy foliage and a few with variegation. Saintpaulias do not like being chilled. It is wise to buy plants only during the milder months of the year. Shops often sell them in winter, and it is not unusual for these plants to turn sickly after being taken home. This is usually because they have been subjected to cold or ill-treatment. beforehand. Many specialist nurseries will not despatch plants until weather conditions are suitable. Some nurseries sell leaf cuttings of the named cultivars for rooting at home. and this is an inexpensive way to build up a collection. The leaf cuttings usually root easily on a window-sill.

Saintpaulias can be grown in 10-13 cm (4-5in) pots for a long time. They do well in peal-based potting composts, but they do not like excessively alkaline conditions. If the tap-water is hard and limy. it is best to use clean rainwater. The plants must have congenial warmth and humidity. They enjoy slight shade to good light, but should never be exposed to direct sunshine.

Saintpaulias are absolutely ideal subjects for growing in plant cabinets. They respond extremely well to artificial light culture, and the cabinets have the advantage of providing the humidity the plants enjoy. In the home, saintpaulias often grow especially well in bathrooms and kitchens where there is warmth coupled with humidity. During summer, the plants can be sprayed with a line mist of clean rainwater from time to time. Hard water must not be used, since it will cause white spots and patches on the velvety foliage, which cannot be wiped clean. As the plants mature they can become overcrowded by their leafy growth and they then tend to flower poorly. They form suckers around the parent plant and these should be removed from time to time. Tap the plant out of its pot and cut away the suckers with a sharp knife. leaving some roots attached. These suckers can then be potted individually for propagation. Mature plants also form side crowns, causing overcrowding. These are little rosettes of leaves that grow between the leaf axils – they can be used for propagation, but in any case they should be removed. The side crowns can be removed with a pair of finely-tipped scissors, such as vine or nail scissors. They root easily if merely gently pressed into the compost. Propagation from leaf cuttings or side crowns needs a temperature of 18 deg C (65 deg F). The best time for potting is spring. The plants should always be watered sufficiently to keep the roots moist. If through adverse circumstances the temperature falls much in winter, water very sparingly. The plants

will often survive at temperatures much lower than the recommended if kept slightly dry. However, at low temperatures the plants cannot be expected to flower well.

Aphids sometimes attack the plants, and are best wiped off with a soft brush of the kind used by artists. A similar tool can be used to wipe off dust or fibres that may collect on the velvety foliage after the plants have been in the home for some time. Low temperatures and low humidity will cause shrivelling and yellowing of the foliage. However, saintpaulias often have a remarkable ability to recover from short-term ill-treatment. Even if most of the leaves deteriorate. they may send up new healthy growth from the base if congenial conditions are once again restored.

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