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African violet 'Emergency' 

You may think of them as old-fashioned “grandma” plants, but there’s nothing shrinking about African violets.

Collectors and fans alike are wild for big-blossomed beauties from Russian and Ukrainian hybridizers, as well as specialties from Japanese growers. Many of these hybrids have been registered with the African Violet Society of America and are available to American growers.

“They are showy flowers that are big and many have ‘Fantasy’ markings like splotches, spots … . There are doubles and bicolors,” says Barbara Pershing, a long-time collector and member of the Cedar Valley African Violet Club. She’s grown a few Russian hybrids and appreciates the blooms, although the foliage is somewhat unruly.

Many of the latest forms, colors and types of violets and other gesneriads can be found at the club’s annual display and sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 10 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Crossroads Mall. Plants and leaves will be available to purchase.

Club members aren’t hosting a judged competition this year. “Our club is getting older, and we still meet four times a year and are maintaining the club, but we decided it was time to slow down and just display and sell violets,” Pershing says.

Although membership numbers are down for the club, interest in violets is not waning. “Facebook must have six or eight different pages on African violets. The African Violet Society of America has a Pinterest page, too,” Pershing says.

Purchase plants from reputable sources or buy locally at a sale like the one sponsored by the CV African Violet Club.

Whether it’s the classic “supermarket” violet or a newfangled cultivar ordered online, be consistent with the care. First, isolate new violets from other violets and house plants in your home for several weeks. Don’t overlook this step, or you could spread thrips or other insects and disease that can decimate your plant collection.

Fall is on our doorstep, and soon furnaces will be fired up and the weather will turn cold. Window-grown violets could be exposed to cold drafts through glass panes. Move the plants a short distance away from windows, especially at night.

Keep room between 65 and 80 F and humidity between 40 and 60 percent. Here are a few more tips for growing African violets:

  • Choose healthy plants.
  • Plant violets in clean pots with drainage holes 1/3 diameter of the plant.
  • Repot violets every six months in a potting mix of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 perlite and 1/3 vermiculite.
  • Water regularly when soil is slightly damp or nearly dry to the touch or use a mat or wick watering system.
  • Never use softened water or wet foliage when watering.
  • Fertilize with 1/4 teaspoon 20-20-20 or 15-30-15 fertilizer in 1 gallon water for watering.
  • Never place violets in direct sunlight. Filter the light with a sheer curtain.
  • Make sure plants don’t touch. If mildew appears, gently wash or mist leaves with diluted fungicide such as Neem oil. Using a fan to circulate air can reduce the likelihood of mildew, too.
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Arts/Special Sections Editor

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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