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African Violets and My Grandmother

african violets

My introduction to houseplants was through my grandmother. She was a master at cultivating African Violets (Santpaulia hybrids). They thrived under her care, even though she always told me she "didn't do a thing" to keep them alive. One magical trick she taught me was to insert a leaf into light potting soil and keep it moist to propagate new plants. She also told me to make sure no water touched the leaves, or they would rot. I watched her mercilessly pull out brown, spent blooms. Then new ones would arrive. That was a long time ago.

Since then, I have visited African Violet experts, producing show-quality hybrids of every imaginable shape, color, and form. The pros use grow lights and special supports to hold the leaves above the soil. They showed me special African Violet planters that deliver moisture to the soil through wicks to avoid the dreaded water droplets on the leaves. Apparently, gardeners can become just as obsessed with African Violets as they can Orchids.

My African Violet technics involve these more practical tasks:

• Use very light potting soil and keep it aerated with perlite

• Use a long-spout watering can with a narrow tip to direct water below and away from the leaves. Water an area of soil near, but not directly underneath the leaves, and allow the water to ooze into the neighboring soil.

• Add pretty pebbles to the soil surface where watering takes place to disperse the drops and avoid erosion from watering in the same spot every week.

• Tug gently at the stem to remove old, dried blooms.

• Add a bit of liquid-soluble fertilizer to the watering can.

If you accidentally knock off one of the delicate leaves, you can insert it into moist, light soil and try to grow a brand new plant. I was finally able to do this recently, and it brought back a lot of nice memories of my grandmother.

Keep looking for new articles on this page or in the Landscape Consultants HQ archive. I’ll try to put all I’ve learned about houseplants over the years from the experts, my schooling, and of course, from my grandmother!