Vintage African Violets

Thursday, July 8, 2010

When I was a girl, I had a neighborhood friend whose grandmother lived close by. Often in the long summer months I would walk or bike with Cathy to her grandma’s house. She was a lovely lady and always seemed genuinely happy to see us. She also always was good for some cold lemonade or something wonderful from the oven. My unexpressed reason for tagging along on these trips was what each and every windowsill of Cathy’s grandma held….AFRICAN VIOLETS! Oh, I couldn’t get enough of them. They were every imaginable shade of pink and purple and had wonderfully fuzzy leaves. I just was mesmerized by them. My own Mom had house plants, but nothing like these.

Life moved on, Cathy’s family moved, her grandma passed away and I didn’t think of African Violets again for a very long time. Fast forward about 30 years and I met my lovely friend Sharon. The first time I was invited to her home for tea, I noticed the LARGEST African Violet I had ever seen on her table. It instantly brought back memories of those lovely violets that Cathy’s grandma had displayed in her windowsills and I knew that I had to have one.

Now, I couldn’t imagine my home without violets. I just love them and have as many as I can squeeze into my little home. Many varieties are vintage (any plant coming from a plant that is 25 years or older). My daughter gifted me with 2 vintage violets for Mother’s Day. Isn’t she a dear?!

I thought I’d pass along a few tips on keeping African Violets.

LIGHT- Adequate light is most important for abundant bloom. Any window that has strong, bright, light is good. They prefer bright light, but not direct sun. Which window provides this will depend upon climate, season, and your particular home.

WATERING - Use room temperature to slightly warm water, when the soil surface feels "dry to the touch". You may water from the top, from the bottom, or by wicks but be very careful not to get the leaves wet.

FEEDING - Regular fertilizing is needed for maximum growth and blooming. Follow "constant feeding" directions on the container, usually about 1/4 tsp. of dry fertilizer per gallon of water (follow instructions on the package for feeding every time you water). A balanced fertilizer, such as a 15-15-15 or 20-20-20, for example, is best. Feed each watering. My preferred food is Granny’s Bloomers but Miracle Grow also carries a violet mix.

ENVIRONMENT - African violets thrive in the same conditions in which people are comfortable--not too hot nor too cold, with 40-50% humidity.

SOIL - Use a light, "soil-less" mix, consisting of at least 30-50% vermiculite or perlite. When buying a prepackaged mix, don't believe the "violet soil" label! A bag of a good soil mix should feel like a nice, fluffy, soft, pillow. Most commercial mixes are too dense and heavy, and will need to have perlite and/or vermiculite added. The wetter you plan on keeping your plants (such as wicking), the more perlite you will need to add.

POTTING - Most flowering houseplants will need repotting into fresh soil every 6 months or so. When repotting a violet, remove some of the bottom of the root ball and lower into fresh soil to cover the bare trunk ("neck"). Pot into larger pots only when root ball fills pot, never into a pot more than 1/2 the diameter of the plant. Shallow pots are best.

PROPAGATION - Use very light rooting media. For violets, cut the leaf stem at 1/2" to 3/4" and push down into lightly moistened mix. For streptocarpus, remove midrib from leaf, then firmly insert two halves (rib or center-side) down into media, like "slices of bread in a toaster". Leaves can be protected by placing in a clear plastic bag or covered container. Place in moderate light and separate and pot "babies" when they are big enough for you to comfortably handle, usually when 3 small leaves have formed.

Sharing at Suzanne's Vintage Thingie Thursday! Thanks Suzanne for hosting each week!