First The Leaf !!

Time to  put down a leaf

………….and WAIT,  like an expecting parent!

Very simple to do. The same rules apply whether you are starting with a leaf, a sucker or a beheaded crown.

Here a 3oz solo cup  illustrates  the principle, the size container is up to you.

View cut away cup leafMost will start with a leaf. Trim the stem to length (you decide) cutting at a slight angle.

Set in cup on top of moist (about wrung out dishcloth feel)medium. Push firmly into medium but not deep.

Some growers cut the large top off the leaf, it makes the cup easier to handle and doesn’t hurt the leaf. I have put the cut top into another cup and got babies.

A sucker is handled the same way. Set the sucker (remember, it has 3 leaves) on top of the medium push firmly, but don’t bury the bottom.

Put the prepared container in something that will conserve moisture. A plastic baggy is great for single pots. I use an alum baking pan with clear cover to hold a lot of pots. Use your imagination to make a little greenhouse for your maternity ward.

in about 30 days,

Roots will develop.  During the next 30 days you should begin to see tiny baby plants develop on the end of the mother leaf.    These are “rabbit ears”.

In about 90 days

(remember the rule of 3? (30 days x 3) you will have babies who have some leaves at least the size of a dime. Each is ready to go into its own In 3 monthspot.

These are part of a group of leaves that I put down 3 months earlier,

On some of  these I have left each  attached to Mama); if I wanted more babies I would just take Mama away so I could put her back in a nursery cup to re-root and produce more little ones.

The mix will be kept about the moisture level of a wrung out wash cloth.  They will be feed a very weak fertilizer according to the program I have decide to follow.  Using a plastic cover over the plants makes maintenance simpler.

about 5 months

The babies are now about 5 months old.
There were different varieties in this batch which accounts for the 5 months oldvarious size plants. Even now I am trying to encourage the single round shape that the large plants will be groomed to.   
Continue the feeding program with weak fertilizer.  The stems are relatively short and the leaves have a nice color (most of these are variegated).

Within a Year

Optimara Little Inca

 Originally published in a Facebook Group  – The Plants Exchange.   All photographs property of the author

Mother of the Buckeyes

One of the great things about attending an African Violet convention is the opportunity to meet the hybridizers of the  the plants we grow. I am so glad, like all of us,  they love to talk about  their ‘babies’.

Pat Hancock is no exception.  What a delight to be assigned a work station by her sales stand.   I could hear her discussions.  What a bubbling  fountain of knowledge she is.

Could not believe I won the only starter plant of this “Best in Show” winner BUCKEYE NOSTALGIA

If I irritated her with my shameless eavesdropping (and probably staring), she never indicated she felt I was a pest.  Pat graciously answered mine and others questions, even the ones that I recognized as coming from rank ‘newbies’

The  Buckeye Series is one beautiful  group of plants.  Pat Hancock continues to hybridize Buckeyes for better foliage and large, exciting blossoms that almost defy   description, the Buckeye Series is used by other hybrizers as a parent in their own crosses.

Her plants are mostly large standards;  a person with limited space like  I have, has to limit his numbers of the Buckeye violets.  That is one hard job, take my word for it!

Buckeye blue ribbon plants shown by Pat Gibson (KY)at DAVS show N. Myrtle Beach, SC

Some great “trivia” I  picked up, as I eaves dropped.  She was sharing these points with  hobbyist, I  hope  she does not mind that I share with you.

  • All Buckeyes  have leaf variegation and are hybridzed for outstanding foliage.
  •  A memory aid – name each plant from a single seed pod with the same first letter. Take a look at “First Class”.  There are seven Buckeye listed beginning  with the letter “A”; did not try to count the “B” or “C”; just say “oh, man.  Wow!”  when it sinks in how many varieties came from a single pod.
  • Each plant has a known pedigree, just like her poodles used to have;  Pat talks about each plant –her  baby with a distinct personality and characteristics.  She shares knowledge of its children and grandchildren with as much pride as she exhibits when talking about her (human) great grand daughter – eyes sparkle.
  •  How do you decide which seedlings to save?  Laughingly she answers: A secret Marie Burns taught me—if it has three leaves, save it!
  • Speaking of leaves:  systematically take off three old leaves monthly.  This keeps a constant growth of new leaves from which flowers grow.
  • Groom for symmetry from the beginning.   Can you imagine picking a plant off the shelf as you  get ready  for a show, confident you  have a winner?   Overheard Pat say, she spends very little extra time on show plants.
  • Feeding.       Fish emulsion  will help keep the green that all plants (even champion variegated) must have to grow and bloom.

Buckeyes are beautifully  variegated large, prize winning, standards.   I am going to devote some of my very limited shelf space to several. They will be pleasant reminders of the great 2012 DAVS convention and the privilege I had to learn from the master.

A  special invitation from Pat Hancock  

If  you want to really learn about African Violets, you need to join AVSA ;  you will find an application  at,  receive 10 free buckeye leaves when you  use the preprinted membership  application on my order form.

Postscript:  I was thrilled to have this blog published in the July/Aug 2012 African Violet Magazine  (AVSA) page 50 

The Puzzle–Chimera African Violet

African Violets are interesting.   Most  can be reproduced by setting a leaf in medium, waiting about three months….Voila..a baby just like Mama plant.

African Violet ? Well, no, but it is a chimera


Not so with a chimera violet.

 Put down a chimera’s  leaf, patiently watch it grow, you will have a blooming baby with a solid colored flower.

Where  is that pretty striped blossom you wanted?

 Chimera African violets are reproduced in two ways:

  • Using a sucker from the mother plant
  • Cutting a bloom stalk, then carefully nurturing the part of the stem with the two tiny leaves below the bud

Not until  the new plants flowers,  are you sure that baby is just like it’s Mama.

That first bloom is an exciting event!

 What a joy to see stripes as the petals unfold!

Reproducing chimera is a slow process;  proven variety starter plants are relatively expensive.

I  am not willing to shell out double digit dollars for little plants that may not survive under my growing conditions.

Growing a chimera was just a dream.


Surfing the net one day, I came across a grower advertising unproven chimera starter plants for a  price  that did not intimidate me.

Why, even his blooming proved starters were in my range.

I gave him a test order, to include one proven variety.

Received beautiful plants.   They all bloomed true to variety!    I was one happy violeteer!

The heat of this summer pretty much squelched all my violets; cool weather came; my plants responded.

Now,  this striped beauty is proudly displayed;  the first blooming chimera in my collection.

Meet ‘Summer Song’!

Why are chimera different?

It’s one of those things that I kind’a understand, but not enough to explain .

Google “what is a chimera” if want to spend some fascinating time at the computer. 

Benefits of Club Membership

 Greatest  Benefits 

The simple pleasure of meeting  face-to-face to discuss growing African  Violets is  one of the main reasons for being part of an African Violet Club.

Whether a ‘Newbie’ who has never grown African Violets or a more experienced grower, each of us contributes information,  learns different methods for growing, shares  successes and challanges.

All of us learn to put aside our FEAR of the African Violet which seems so intimidating because  we  do not understand its simply needs—potting mixture, moisture , light.

“Rabbit ears” 

Nothing can compare to the thrill of finding the first tiny ‘rabbit ear’ on that leaf which sat  in a cup for a couple months,seeming to do nothing! that first bloom! Nothing compares to the excitement we feel.  It is hard not to become teary eyed  when we see tiny green specks where we planted invisible seeds three weeks before!

Just know each of us will share the excitement of your success as you tell us about it at our next meeting.

Be An Active Club Member

 No club functions without a lot of  behind the scenes participation.  Elected officers accept the responsibilities to present effective club functions, yet each member can make the load lighter in so many small ways.

None of us devotes his time exclusively to African Violets, but each of us can accept the responsibilty to help the club be its best.


How might we help?  Ask yourself a few questions–think about it!

  • Could  I offer to follow-up on members who miss a meeting
  • Would I be  willing to co-ordinate some simple activity
  • Will I share the benefits of  my unique talent
  • Am I willing to speak before the group
  • Have I asked: What can I do to help?

Actively Support your Club’s  affliation with the  National and Regional Societies

  • African Violet Society of America (AVSA) receive 6 issues of the beautiful full color publication the AFRICAN VIOLET MAGAZINE  
  • My club is also  an affiliate of Dixie African Violet Society (DAVS)

I Want Grow Lights—But!!!

Sooner or later most African violet enthusiast decide a light unit is an absolute necessity; but oh Boy!   Longingly browsing the catalogs can really be a discouraging journey.

I got to get a light shelf!

Check the internet and catalogs.  A large grow light is not an item a budget conscious retiree can readily spend a few hundred dollars to enjoy.

Economy is the mother of invention; if I want a larger grow light unit this is certainly going to have to be true.

Judicious shopping and a little time produce:

  • 48″ x 18″ x 64″ high unit with 3 shelves (each double light fixture); each shelf will accommodate 4 standard 11″ x 22″ trays
  • top storage shelf
  • bottom area with a  covered 36″x21″x20″ high covered storage unit that pulls out serving as a work surface, plus an out of the way 9″x17″ trash can

Folks, floor space less than 2′x4′– 18 square feet of growing space – all that storage space priced about $200.

Considerable savings compared to commercially available units.     Check it out! 4 shelf unit — 74″x27″x23″ – 2 standard trays per shelf– no storage area.   The price tag–about $500! (Note this IS NOT a 48″ shelf)

My shopping list:

  • 1ea  74″x48″x18″ wire storage shelf unit (rated to support 350lbs/shelf) (available in black no extra charge in my area)
  • 3ea  48″ double tube shop lights with reflector hoods  (for T-8 tubes) (available with black reflectors-extra cost)
  • 6ea  48″ fluorescent T-8  fluorescent tubes
  • 1ea  multiple outlet extension cord
  • 1 ea  indoor light timer single outlet
  • 1 ea 36 x 21 x 20 covered plastic storage container/wheels
  • 1 ea 9″x 17″ plastic trash can
  • 24 ea  11 3/4″x9 1/4″ x 2 1/2″ aluminum roaster baking pans with lids
  • 3ea 12″x12″x 8″ plastic pull out storage drawers
  • 1ea  7″ x10″x 8″  plastic 2 drawer storage  unit
  • 1 ea bag of plastic ties

Assembly could not be easier

1.  Remove shelf unit from carton and assemble using 4 of the shelves ( helper simplifies things, but can be assembled without help)

Snap the support ring onto each post with top of ring 21″ from floor; slip first shelf onto the 4 poles locking into position over rings;

Measure upward 16″ from top edge of this shelf locking support ring, 16″mark and snap ring on post; Repeat step installing 2 more shelves.  Top shelf will be about 65″ from floor; leaving a space to put storage bins; or a 5th shelf.

2.   Unpack shop light fixtures; hang 1 fixture under each of 3 shelves using hooks and chain provided attaching to center bar of shelf;  make sure cord of each faces the same end of shelves.

For neat appearance pull electrical cord of top unit straight down and fasten to lower cord with a plastic tie, repeat with next 2 cords fastening against shelf with tie so the cords bundle hangs straight.

Use plastic ties to securely attach extension outlet strip to bottom shelf frame.

Plug light fixture cords into outlet extensions; Extension plugs into the timer, set for 10 hours of light , then plug timer into  wall outlet.

Voila’!  For less than $150 I have a fully functioning large plant light unit

To add storage space add a 36″x21″x20 covered plastic wheeled storage container which fits neatly on the floor under first shelf  (easily pulls from under the unit for  use as  flat work surface); a small 9″x17″ trash can goes beside the storage container.

Above top shelf install 3 plastic 12″x12″ drawer units plus one 2 drawer 7″x10″ unit (all these units are about 9″ high).  Secure all units to shelf frame with plastic ties.

If appearance is a special concern, these shelves are available in black; light assemblies are also available in black  at a higher cost.  Shopping the closet accessories department can yield beautiful storage boxes that work perfectly and look great—cost actually is comparable to the plastic  storage drawers.

Limited space, but still got violet fever?

Smaller versions of these wire shelving units are available which will easily accommodate the 24” grow light units available at Lowes, Home Depot, etc.  Assembly as described for the larger units; adjust from different height and number of shelves.

A Frightening Prospect

One of the most frightening prospects for the new African violet grower is the idea of cutting on a plant.

Ready to be trimmed and repotted
Ready for surgery

“I am afraid I will kill it!” .     It is hard to believe the action  triggers  a vibrant rejuvenation, the plant puts out healthy  new roots, leaves and bloom stalks.  It comes to life!!

The first time will not be easy.  Every grower does it a little differently, so put on your big grower’s pants, get that ailing plant, a sharp blade, and  some fresh potting mix.  We will use the same pot.

The plant is easier to work with if the potting mix has been allowed to dry out a little more than usual.  The patient will not be as turgid, so will not snap, except where you intend to break it.

The roots are dead a few healthy ones found

Note first that roots have grown to the edges of the  pot, but are not healthy roots, they seem to be dead, this plant was not put in new potting mix when first added to my collection.

The plan is to remove  an inch of the old mix exposing the neck.

Using a finger nail,  scrape the skin from the exposed  portion of the stem;  healthy new, white roots will soon grow from

the area.

Preserve the  healthy roots of  the original plant, even if  few, trim away everything else.

All of the energy of growth should be concentrated in roots and leaves for a while; remove any bloom stalks.

Newly potted ready to grow

Using the original 4 inch pot, fill half-full with  fresh  African violet mix; tap against the table to settle it (do not pack);  spread the root clump  flat, place the plant in pot to sight position.   Be sure the bottom row of leaves is at least 1/4 inch below the pot rim;  finish filling with potting mix  to the bottom row of leaves;  again tap against table top to settle  securely.   Place completed pot into a saucer of water allowing it to soak up moisture for 3o minutes.

This plant has been under lights but has failed to perform;   it will now be  placed in a window to test its response to a new a growing situation.

Patience Is A Virtue I lack !!

What a surprise to learn  many African Violets hobbyist are just like me!!  Our interest in the lovely plant goes  back  many years, we grew so many pots of violets it became an overwhelming task; plants, pots, light units were all stored away.

“Never again!” was the silent resolve until one day…………………..not sure exactly what happened but the bug bit hard!!

Out comes the “violet stuff” that has been packed away.   Tighten’ them shelves, wash  dem pots, trek to the garden center for the prepared mix and some extra perlite!  There is so much to do.

Oh why did I sell all my African Violetmagazines on ebay?  Wonder how much has changed in the past few years?  Are my favorite hybridizers still hard at work?   Gotta’ rejoin AVSA.

Hey, I don’t have to wait for the catalogs now!  Just go online and WOW!! (the pictured plants are gorgeous) I can not believe how the cost of things has changed!!   Leaves used to be 50 cents,  plants  $2 for the  really special ones, shipping cost was negligible!!

Yep, times  and prices have changed, but already I feel that old anticipation  to see a gorgeous 8 inch semi-mini  with a gleaming crown of beautiful flowers.

Not mine, but I can dream

Color is great, but no ordinary NOID (no name) this time round..No sir, my green darlings will have registered  names.  Since there are no growers or clubs with which I can associate, the required cash outlay demands that I start with a couple of small registered starter plants and an assortment of 20 pedigreed leaves from a dealer I recognized off ebay.

Leaves arrive and are promptly prepared

The assortment of leaves arrive on one of the hottest days of summer, with baited breath I open the box, expecting to see mush.    Low and behold, I pour out 21 packs (got a bonus) of  fresh, crisp leaves….all labeled!   I am on my way!!

Most of the afternoon is spent carefully labeling containers; putting down those precious beginnings of a new collection.   Finally,  they are snuggling in the nursery;  soon there will be babies to share, blooming plants to admire! I dream!

I wait, and I wait!  Why don’t I see little ears on those mother leaves?   I wait some more!

I have got to see some color; in desperation, I go to a home improvement store  to find a couple of blooming Optimara violets (NOID).     I wait.

It took forever, but one day there is  a little ear on one leaf!!!  Everyday the trays are examined, one by one babies appear.   Then I wait!

Will those baby leaves ever get to the size of a nickel (or even a dime)?   I wait impatiently!

Memories of  good experience in the past always speed events of the good old days.  With violets, it is no different.

When separating  babies this past week, and revisiting records on the mother leaves, the realization hit.   These little treasures are right on schedule!

The separated treasures  are right on schedule!

The separation of clumps is taking place EXACTLY three months to the day of the original putting down of leaves.

A  reasonable schedule of development is: roots  during first month, ears during the second  month, by the end of three months there should be enough growth for the babies to be separated from Mom.

Newbie: Soil Is A Dirty Word

Mama used to threaten to wash my mouth out with soap, in those long ago days of my childhood, if she heard me repeat certain words.  Believe me,  I took those words out of  my childhood vocabulary!

There is one word I do not  use today when I discuss African violets.   My  violets are  NOT planted in  (oh, horrors! Cover your ears;  close your mouth)…… SOIL.

Why not?

In 1985  Pauline Bartholomew explained  why in her book  Growing to Show-How to grow prize-winning African Violets. “Few growers  now include  natural soil in potting mixes.  Soil has too many drawbacks……………..   It tends to compact rapidly, has poor aeration, and must be  pasteurized before use.” (page 50-Potting Mix)

In 25 years great advances have been made; almost no commercial  potting mix contains soil.    Potting mixes are made using  three basic ingredients,  perlite, course vermiculite, and peat moss (or composted forest products); the pH balance is achieved by using dolomitic limestone.

Recognizing the role of each of these staple ingredients helps me understand the  advantage of the  soil-less mix.

Knowing the role of each ingredient helps me when I modify my favorite commercial mix.

When I assemble my mix from scratch,  I understand why I am using  particular proportions.

Getting the facts

Let us gather some common household items that may  help us better understand the function of each ingredient in our potting mix recipe.

We need:

  1. plastic dish scrub pad
  2. sponge (cut it into small pieces)
  3. small bowl of animal feed bits,  imagine it saturated with lemon juice before being dried
  4. sugar

Perlite:  Notice the makeup of the scrub pad.  It is bulky, nonporous  fibers, bundled  in a  shape with a lot of air space inside.   Pour water through it.  What happens, does it absorb the liquid?  No.   Is it wet?  Yes, a film of liquid clings to the surfaces of the fibers.  Try squeezing water from it, nothing happens.   Alone it has no odor, will not decompose; it is a bulky mass that will not compact easily.

A perfect description of perlite and it’s function in our soil-less mix !

“Perlite is a unique volcanic mineral which expands from four to twenty times its original volume when it is quickly heated to a temperature of approximately 1600-1700 degrees F.

“Because of the physical shape of each particle, air passages are formed which provide optimum aeration and drainage. Because perlite is sterile, it is free of disease, seeds, and insects.”

Vermiculite:  Pour water through the sponge.  It immediately absorbs and holds volumes of  fluid which can be released by squeezing.    Additives to the water used will be held for slow release, the sponge will not decompose.   Even when dry these sponge particles will not compact.  Neither will vermiculite.

Peat Moss (or composted forest products).     Think of the bowl of pet feed bits  having been saturated with lemon juice then dried.   It will absorb enormous volumes of water, quickly break down, the products of the breakdown will be distributed to any material touching it.   When it dries it is difficult to rehydrate; it forms a tightly compacted mass, not easily broken apart.

“Peat moss does not contain nutrients but it absorbs nutrients both already existing in the soil and those added by you. The cell structure of sphagnum peat moss is large so it can absorb extra air and nutrients like a wick or sponge. By absorbing these important nutrients, peat moss then releases them over time as your plants need them.”

Dolomite Lime:   Many growers add a small amount of dolomite lime to control the pH.     As  sugar “sweetens” the acidic lemon juice making it more palatable to us, dolomite lime counteracts the acid pH of the vermiculite and compost (peat moss)   helping to maintain the pH range of 6.4 to 6.9

Most practical for the newbie

Can I just go to a store and buy premixed African Violet potting mix?

Sure, in fact, that is what I do.  An advantage when using a good commercial mix is the pH adjustment has been made so there is no need to be concerned.   I amend the commercial mix with perlite (a neutral pH)  for the fluffier mix  I prefer.

A word of caution:   There are good mixes and not so good.  The cheaper mixes may have large chunks of wood products and other  inferior ingredients.   You will find, as you experiment,  a favorite supplier.   I use Miracle-gro or Fafard usually, others prefer Promix  and Volkmann mixes.

Do Not Set Yourself Up to Fail

We all have a number of violets we work with at home.

It has occurred to me that a systematic procedure for discussions about growing
will be beneficial as we plan our Society’s meetings for 2011.

There is no secret that some varieties are easier to grow than others. To begin

the journey with a variety that gives extra challenge from the get-go can be
down right discouraging; we can set ourselves up for failure.

Confidence is the secret to success.

Start with varieties that practically guarantee success.  Holtkamp Greenhouses’ Optimara violets fit the bill . They are readily available.

Everyone develops a fondness for some special African violet characteristic.

Maybe girl foliage is a special delight. Others love violets with variegated
foliage. A trailing growth pattern, sporting hundreds of blossoms on each plant
makes me envious, I feel I must try to grow one. Large plants, miniature
plants, yellow flowers, double flowers, wasp flowers, even bustled leaves are

These fancier violets need more specialized care.

They take practice. Growing a challenging plant along side an easily grown
specimen like an Optimara lets me observe the difference as the two grow.

We all dream of having the best grown

Each member is presented a small plant each year to grow for our April show and sale.

Here is my suggestion:

What if we have three plants we concentrate on, specifically observing for
discussions at our PAVS meetings in 2011?

The rest of our collection can not help but benefit from what these three
“charges” teach us.

Each member will focus on three plants during the next year:

  1. Optimara variety of choice
  2. Named variety of choice
  3. Assigned project plant

———————————–AFRICAN VIOLETS ARE FUN!! GROW ONE!!….OR 2 OR 3 OR………………………………………..

The Seed’s Story Two Months After Sowing

I sowed my seeds March 22, 2010.   Since I was going to demonstrate seed sowing at our African Violet Society meeting I wanted to have   actual seedlings to show.    I succeeded, but it was nothing short of a miracle.

Mistake number one was using such a small container.  If I was not going to try to transport them 200 miles the container would have been fine.   It is difficult to have a steady hand with that much moving.

Mistake number two was forgetting I am clumsy.

Seedlings 4-7-10

First I accidentally dumped the container immediately after planting part of the pack of

2 surviving plants 4-29-10

seeds.   I said a little prayer, uprighted the  container, (the lid had saved a total dump), then sprinkled  the rest of the pack on the mix;  a few germinated by time I headed to Myrtle Beach meeting.

After the meeting I was moving things around the room and a third time accidentally

knocked the container over, this time spilling everything out into a larger box it was sitting in.   I spent about 30 minutes with tweezer and a bright light trying to fine very tiny green specks in that little

Growing May 10, 2010

pile of mix in the box.   I actually found three plants!

Planted, fertilized and growing 5-29-10

Two of those three plants have survived until today.  They are very healthy little plants , sprinting toward blooming, I


I have jokingly said these violets will be Traj and Edy no matter what they look like.

Miniature trailers that stood the test of my ineptness.  They have been subjected to several moments of  Tragedy!