20 - African Violets - Tough Love

African Violets

When I first started growing violets I was enchanted by their romantic names. I lusted after plants called Rite of Spring and Moonbeam’s Silver Glow. (I made those names up but, in the wild world of violet naming there could be plants with those very names.)

I have matured in violet growing. Instead of collecting every darned violet in sight I now stick to preferred performers. I would have called this heresy in my early days but now, if a plant doesn’t perform, I throw it out. No, I don’t ‘take a leaf’ and try again. I just flip it into the trash. Heartless of me, I know, but my collection is better for it. My plant stand is not a nursery for invalids and there are always more African Violets out there.

I do not look for special blooms but I like the flowers to have more than one colour, unless they are miniatures. Here are some of my preferred plants:

  • Optimara Gaughan
  • Optimara Virginia
  • Optimara Little Cherokee
  • Mighty Fine

If it seems that I have a preference for Optimaras, it’s because they have the reputation, sometimes deserved, of flowering freely and being tough as an old boot. As you may have guessed I’m not growing plants for show but for my own enjoyment. If you can grown a bed of pink petunias, you can also grow violets.

I wick my plants into the water in individual little tubs. Some violets don’t like to get their feet wet this way. Fine. Trash them! I look for sturdy plants that bloom freely and give me good leaves. Since my method of growing doesn’t lead to long-lived plants, I am always re-cultivating new plants from leaves or from seed. I’ve had considerable success growing from seed. It takes a while but eventually you have a forest of little plants from which you can choose the best growers and, you guessed it, throw it out the rest.

Like most of you I grow a few other plants, outside or inside. Sweet 100 Tomatoes, Dahlias & and, most recently, Cacti and Succulents from seed (If I live long enough I may see these cacti mature). My first love remains, however, the tenacious, free blooming and infinitely varied African Violet.

Wick Watering
There are various ways of growing African violets but I prefer the method called wick watering. In a wick watering, a wick made of synthetic material such as nylon baby yarn or a thin strip of nylon stocking is used to bring water into the soil from a small plastic or ceramic reservoir below the plant pot. There are commercial reservoirs but I use Ziploc containers and cut a strip in their blue plastic lids so I can place the wick through and, later, fill the containers with water without removing their lids. Margarine containers or other plastics food containers from the supermarket can be used instead. The wick is inserted in the pot before earth is added, taped at the top to the outside rim, then the wick put through the hole in the bottom of the pot to dangle into the water-holding container below. Some people complain that the water in the containers turns green from algae growth. These containers are easily scrubbed out and there is a commercial product called Physan that prevents the algae from growing. Popular knowledge says that adding a copper coin to the water will stop algae but I consider that myth to be busted. Doesn’t work for me.

Not all violets thrive on a with watering but those that do like it very much. The plants have a continuous source of moisture but do not become overly wet. One thing you will notice if you start wick watering is that when plants are preparing to bloom they’ll draw much more water and the reservoir will quickly become dry.

Wick watering is ideal for invalids or busy folks who may not have time or energy to individually water their plants on a regular basis. If you have to go away on vacation or for business you can rest assured that your plants will be well watered in your absence. If, like myself, you don’t take to scheduled watering then wicks take out all the guilt.

All the Best and Good Growing!

Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2005

Feed: https://www.soniabrock.com/Podcasts/chatham1.xml