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African Violet Plant Care Instructions: Part 4
African Violet Care   ~  Oprime aquí por el español

Part 1
Basic Care Summary

Light Requirements

Temperature and Air Quality
Part 2
Fertilizer and Plant Nutrition

Part 3
Repotting Violet Pots
Potting Soil

Part 4
Pests and Disease
Promoting Optimal
   Growth & Symmetry
Healthy Grooming

Care Index

Full Glossary of Terms
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Optimara - HarlequinPests and Disease

As with other plants, African Violets can fall victim to a number of pests and pathogens. In almost all cases, preventing them is easier than treating them. (For more details on specific pests and pathogens, see Doctor Optimara.)

As discussed above, one important method of prevention is to simply disinfect pots and potting soil before using. The same can be said for any tools which you may use when working with your African Violets. Disinfect tools by soaking them in a 10 percent bleach solution, i.e., one part bleach to nine parts water. This is especially important when you have been using your tools outside or on other plants. Likewise, always wash your hands before handling your African Violets. And if you have been working outside, change your clothes. Many pests are known to become trapped in clothing until they have the opportunity to attack indoor plants. In addition, always keep your growing area clean. Be on the look out for food sources which may attract insects and other pests to your Violets. You should also remove any spent flowers or leaves which may accumulate in or around your pots. Many pests either feed on or take refuge beneath decaying plant matter. As spent flowers and leaves decompose, they can also attract fungi such as Botrytis and Pythium. For this reason, do not allow leaves and flowers, which have become dark and mushy, to remain on your plants.

Because certain pathogens seem to thrive in very moist conditions, it is important to make sure your African Violets are not receiving too much water, and whenever possible, avoid watering from the top. The easiest way to do this is to use a self-watering device which waters from the bottom. There are a number of self-watering devices which are made specifically for African Violets.These devices use one of two bottom-watering methods to provide African Violets with the correct amount of water.Both the MiniWell (for 1-inch pot sizes) and the MaxiWell (for 4-inch pot sizes) use capillary wicking to draw water from a well into the soil. A similar device is the Optimara WaterShip (for 2-inch pot sizes) which has the added benefit of being spill-proof. A different type of self-watering device is the Watermaid. Instead of using wicks, the Watermaid employs capillary matting to draw water from the included saucer.Optimara - Variegated Affection Because it uses capillary matting, the Watermaid also helps to increase the level of humidity around your African Violets. In addition, the Watermaid accommodates many different pot sizes up to 5-1/2 inches.By providing African Violets with the correct amount of water, any of the above products will help eliminate the conditions in which deadly fungi thrive. They also provide a level of convenience since they can supply enough water for up to two weeks.

Another way to prevent overwatering is to make sure your African Violets are planted in the correct type of pot and that the pot size is not too large. Always use a slightly shallow pot, such as an Azalea pot. A standard pot is too deep for African Violets. When planted in a standard pot, an African Violet's roots will not reach the bottom. As a result, the soil remains overly moist. For the same reason, you should never allow an African Violet to remain in a pot that is too large for it. African Violets perform best and are less susceptible to disease when their roots fit snugly into a pot.

Stick to a consistent watering schedule, and do not let the soil dry out completely before watering. Repeated, sudden changes in the availability of water can cause the same effects as overwatering. If you water from the top, always allow excess water to drain. If you suspect that excess water is not draining completely, you should either repot into a container that provides adequate drainage or add holes to your current pot. When repotting, always use a potting soil that is specifically made for African Violets. A good potting soil will be very light and porous. Ideally, it will be made from block-harvested, sphagnum peat moss. It may also have perlite or expanded polystyrene added to increase the porosity.

Optimara Self-Watering PotAlways maintain good air circulation around your plants. One disease which flourishes in conditions of poor air circulation is Botrytis. Botrytis is a fungus which grows rapidly. It causes damage which will leave your African Violets disfigured. Another fungus which attacks African Violets, during conditions of poor air circulation, is Crown Rot. This is especially the case when poor air circulation is accompanied by overwatering. In almost all instances, Crown Rot is fatal.

Avoid extreme changes in temperature. In addition to the possibility of shock, sudden temperature changes leave African Violets vulnerable to Powdery Mildew.

Be vigilant to the presence of any moths or other insects which may have entered your home. While many adult insects do not feed on African Violets, their larvae do. This is the case with moths. Their offspring are caterpillars, many of which will devour the leaves of African Violets.

When repotting, consider adding Diatomaceous Earth to your potting soil. Diatomaceous Earth is a fully inert, non-volatile substance which has proven effective in fending off certain soil-borne pests, such as Soil Mealy Bugs. It is made from the skeletal remains of diatoms, a microscopic form of algae. When processed into Diatomaceous Earth, these skeletal remains form razor-sharp particles which cut into the soft bodies of small insects. While neutralizing the insects, Diatomaceous Earth does not harm African Violets. The recommended ratio is 1/4 tablespoon of Diatomaceous Earth for every one liter of soil.

Optimara - Chico IIOther soil amendments you may want to consider are seaweed and humic acids. These natural amendments have been shown to reduce the incidence of Root Nematodes.

If you suspect that an African Violet is being affected by pests or disease, your first step is to isolate it. This will prevent other plants from becoming affected. Your next step is to determine what the cause is. If you are unsure, consult Doctor Optimara. Based on the symptoms you are seeing, Doctor Optimara can quickly diagnose the problem and provide you with treatment options.

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Promoting Optimal Growth and Symmetry

In addition to practicing good cultural habits, as described above, there are a number of ways you can enhance the aesthetic value of your African Violet.

To grow extra large African Violets, there are two important things you will want to do:

First, make sure your African Violet does not become rootbound.

While African Violets thrive when their roots fit snugly into their pots, they also need room for new roots if they are to continue growing.
Next, you will have to start disbudding. While this may sound torturous to many African Violet enthusiasts, it is the secret to rapid growth. Because blooming takes up so much energy, removing buds allows an African Violet to divert additional nutrients to the development of new roots and leaves. Of course, while total disbudding will give you maximum results, partial disbudding can be used to balance growth with at least some flowering. To disbud, use a sharp knife to remove the bud and as much of the peduncle as possible.

To get you started on the path to really big African Violets, you may want to consider some of the varieties which have been developed for larger growth. The Optimara World Traveler series, for instance, has several extra large varieties which will give you a head start.

Optimara - Chico IIThe symmetrical growth habit of African Violets is an integral factor of their distinctive beauty. The perfection of this symmetry can be accomplished by helping your African Violet to grow straight and strong petioles (leaf stems). First, it is important to rotate your African Violet so that all sides of the plant receive equal amounts of light. In general, this should be done once a week or every time you water. If you do not rotate your African Violet, it will become larger on the side closest to its source of light, while the other leaves, in an effort to receive more light, will begin to curl in various directions.

In addition to rotating your plants, you will need to provide support to the leaves of your African Violet. This can be done in two ways. The first method requires the use of leaf support rings. These are plastic rings which fit onto the pots of African Violets. They are available in various sizes to fit most any African Violet. The easiest way to get leaf support rings is by mail order. You can find ads for them in most issues of African Violet Magazine, a bi-monthly publication issued by the African Violet Society of America.

The second method for giving leaf support to your African Violet is called double-potting. With double-potting, a second and larger pot is used to provide leaf support. Once your African Violet and its current pot are placed into the second pot, the leaves have something on which to rest. When doing this, you may need to prop up the inner pot, since it will probably be shorter than the outer pot. However, keep in mind that double-potting does not necessarily require another pot. Any circular container will do. It can even be decorative.

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A good grooming routine is important. It will help keep your African Violets looking beautiful as well as keeping them healthy. When done on a regular basis, grooming takes very little time.

To maintain a consistent routine, many recommend grooming your African Violets as part of your regular watering schedule. After you have watered, make sure to wipe off any water which has spilled on the leaves. This serves several purposes.

First, most water has at least some dissolved minerals in it. If water is left on the leaves, these minerals will form a powdery, white residue in the form of spots or streaks. While this residue can easily be removed using a damp cloth, it is easier to prevent them by wiping up the water before it evaporates.

Second, water on the leaves can cause brown spots to develop. These spots may be caused by water which is too cold, or they may be the result of sunlight which has been magnified by the water. In either case, the spots are actually damaged tissue and, therefore, cannot be removed.

Third, excessive moisture on the leaves can promote the growth of fungi. Some of these fungi, such as Crown Rot or Pythium, are particularly deadly. For this reason, be particularly vigilant to any water which may remain on the leaves of the crown.

As you are wiping off the leaves, take the opportunity to look for potting soil or other debris which may have accumulated on the leaves. Dust and dirt can be wiped clean with a soft, damp cloth. For other debris, you may want to use a soft-bristled brush, such as a small paint brush. Note, however, that any brush of this kind should be reserved exclusively for use on your plants. Do not use the same brush on your plants as you would for painting.

Next, inspect your African Violets for spent leaves and flowers. Also, keep your eyes out for leaves and flowers which are damaged. Both should be removed with a sharp knife. Spent leaves and flowers encourage rot which, under the right conditions, can spread to healthy parts of your African Violets. Damaged leaves and flowers leave your African Violets vulnerable to bacterial diseases, viruses and other micro organisms, such as Nematodes.Optimara Self-Watering Pot

While grooming your African Violets, be on the look out for suckers. If you are trying to maintain the symmetry of a single-crowned plant, suckers should be removed as soon as you see them. Otherwise, suckers will develop into new crowns.

Finally, your grooming routine should always include an inspection for insects and other pests. Often, the pests themselves will be clearly visible. Even if you do not see them, however, most pests will leave symptoms. The appearance of any unusual characteristic, on your African Violets, should be cause for further investigation. Remember that insects and other pests are easier to treat when their presence is recognized early. If you find pests or see any symptoms which may indicate the presence of pests, consult Doctor Optimara. Doctor Optimara will help you identify the pests and provide you with effective treatment options.

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Copyright 1999-2002 Optimara/Holtkamp Greenhouses, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. Doctor Optimara, the Doctor Optimara logo and Optimara Field Guide are trademarks of Holtkamp Greenhouses, Inc. Optimara, the Optimara logo, EverFloris, MiniWell, MaxiWell, WaterShip and Watermaid are trademarks of International Plant Breeding, A.G., Switzerland.