African Violets Without A Green Thumb

I believe African violets have frustrated more people than all other house plants put together. We read articles and books on their culture till we know just how it is to be done, what to do and what not to do, we buy good plants from reliable growers, get hand-tailored potting soil, determine the light requirements of these temperamental prima donnas – and what do the ungrateful little monsters do? They die. Every year another large segment of the flower-growing population decides that the African violet is not for it. They just don’t have green thumbs.

The knowledge that we should have, that would tell us how to make them comfortable, the compromise we could make with our dry air, too little or too much light, that knowledge may start with a book, but our minds and hands have to be trained to use it before it can be available to, our violets. The violets have to learn too that they can be a little less comfortable than they were in an ideal environment and still be healthy and beautiful. They can learn this. Plants, like people, are tremendously adaptable.

African violet rooting in water

How to Start

A good way for me to learn, I decided, was by starting from scratch, rooting cuttings and using all I’d read to train my fingers and my mind to grow healthy plants adapted to the environment I had to give them. Then I’d be able to buy other plants and adapt them too. This was to be my course in growing African violets; the first blossom, my diploma.

I started my education with two leaves given me by a neighbor. She showed me how to select the medium-sized ones, best for rooting, to cut their stems 1 1/2 inches long, and to make a slit in each 1/4-inch deep. That is to help the stem establish roots. We selected a bottle for rooting one of the leaves in water. She said that many people added powdered charcoal to the water to keep it clear.

I didn’t, and had no trouble. We fastened a circle of waxed paper over the top with a rubber band, and with a razor blade made a slit in it through which we pushed the leaf. We made the water just high enough to cover the slit quarter inch of the leaf stem.

My neighbor said that since it was better to be safe than sorry, I should use rain water for starting the leaves. Distilled water does as well, and often when I’ve had neither I’ve taken the water from defrosting the refrigerator.

I placed a little label to my leaf, a neat trick for people who root a great many cuttings but a superfluous gesture for me, for I had only two, and both alike!

I put my bottle in a good light, out of direct sunshine, and turned to my second leaf. Preparing it as I had the first, I then dipped it in rooting hormone powder and knocked off all but a film of it. This I found did not hasten rooting but it did ensure a large number of little plants. I then planted my leaf in a small pot of dampened vermiculite, and with a great show of horticultural competence, labeled it.

The leaf started in water made roots first. In 13 days there was a softening of the stem end, a suggestion of tiny hair root. I learned from my friend that some violets root much more quickly than others. I have one standing on my window sill for five months, waiting for roots to form. It looks plump and healthy so I’m not worried. I add water when it needs it, and leave it to take its own time.

Once rooted it is time for –> Transplanting Small African Violet Plants

by D Schroeder

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