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Karen's Growing Hints!

Updated 7.8.01




My violets are grown under lights, and on wicks. It wouldn’t work for me any other way, with my commitments, and I like the success I have with them grown like this. My lights are 2 x 36w cool whites, and this is very successful for me. I have tried other combinations, but these are just as good, and the most reasonably priced, which is pretty important when you have several stands.

My lights are on for approx 12 hours daily during the year. Timers of course are necessary, for me to keep the hours regular. These hours are enough for normal growing for personal enjoyment. When growing for Show, more light hours are necessary. For lots of great information on this subject, I recommend Pauline Bartholomew’s book, "Growing for Show". This book also gives a Countdown for marking on your Calendar, 3 months prior to a Show.


If growing under lights, it is very important to remember to replace the tubes, at least Annually, for continuing good growth and fantastic bloom! Light is the most important factor for bloom, and if growing for show the extra boost of new tubes, at staggered times, approximately 3 months before the show date, will make the most difference.


The wicks I use are from 4-ply Acrylic Baby Yarn, left over from the children’s younger days... just cut lengths to fit, from the pot to the bottom of the reservoir. Whatever wick is used, it must be acrylic or nylon or synthetic, to prevent rotting. This type of wick, the baby yarn, does all my plants, and all sizes. Including all of my gesneriads too, even the larger ones. Cheap and easy, which is the way I like to grow my plants. I have also used Pantihose successfully.

Ordinary potting mix is too heavy for wicking, but the 1-1-1 mix is just fine.

Keep the reservoir full of water, but make sure there is a gap between the water and the bottom of the pot. Without this gap, the plant can and will drown.

When I have several mini Sinningias coming on, I do a communal reservoir for them too, and their wicks hang down into the middle hole of the larger reservoir.

Using plain water now and then is a good idea.

Some folk let the reservoirs dry out too, now and then, to give the plants a rest, this only happens with me if I am running late! Sometimes in the winter months I will note that the mix looks very dark on top of the pot, if it is visible, and then I will remove the wick for a time, to help avoid root or stem or crown rot.


My reservoirs are new Plastic Food Containers, preferably with a White Lid, and a clear base; these hold enough for approximately 3 weeks’ watering. When there is algae build up, I wash and rinse the container.

I have tried using Bleach in the water, but find it quite expensive, and dangerous, as the bleach is bound to touch my clothes! (This is Murphy’s Law.) Washing the container and lid when it goes a little green, is working out just fine. It doesn’t happen overnight after all.

For the larger plants I use the 500ml container, and for the semiminiatures, the 250ml size.


50% Perlite and 50% Vermiculite is my all-time favourite now for rooting leaves, and raising babies. Coarse grade is the best to use, if it is available I find Giving humidity, or a clear lid to the container speeds up rooting time, and the success rate. I find this mixture produces good strong root systems very quickly. If you do not have this, then any light, airy medium that holds water well, is good, or use your favourite medium.

I make an angle cut 1/2 - 3/4" below the leaf blade and plant the leaf. A really large petiole will be cut up the middle too, of the petiole, for more plantlets. If I have room, the leaves go under the lights on my stands, or above the stand, no lights there, but bottom heat from the lights below. So both are good places for the leaves.

If leaves are limp from being in the post, submerging them in warm water for several hours is very beneficial and usually perks them right up. Then, a fresh angle cut and planting, in an enclosed container really makes a difference. Keeping them evenly moist, not too wet, and not dry is important to prevent rotting.


What I find works the best for me, is to place the suckers into a domed container, lined with moist New Zealand Spaghnum Moss. This comes in a very useful dry compressed pellets, and is finely cut up before compressing.

Roots form quickly in this sterile medium, and then can be potted up into its own pot very soon, and put onto a wick, if required.

The pellets are soaked in water for a few hours to reconstitute them. This moss is fluffed up with a fork and used. I keep spare ready-to-use Spaghnum Moss in a covered container.

The Spaghnum Moss can be re-used by soaking in slightly cooled boiling water, then drained.


Chimeras ie “Pinwheel violets” only come true from suckers, most of the time, so a method to speed up the process is by pricking with a large needle, sterilized first, into the stem of the plant, where you want the sucker to grow. This is also useful for encouraging branches in Trailers, where there are bare stems, etc. It could also be called “acupuncture”.

The more usual way of propping Chimeras is to take the suckers from between the leaves of the plant, from the stem. This is done by removing with a sharp knife, or flicking out with a blunt pencil, my preferred method.


This is a marvellous way of increasing your collection, and they are usually true to name!!! ie with the desired stripe down each the petals.

You take off the bloomstalk from the plant, while it is still fresh, cut the stalk on an angle to make it approx 1/2in long, trim off all the blooms etc, and just leave the 2 leaves there. Sometimes the bloomstalk is so big, that you will get 2 more bloomstalks from it, where you have taken the blooms off, from each side... as long as there is the 2 leaves there, and the stalk, you have something to work with.

Then plant the stalks in your favourite medium, up to the neck of the 2 leaves. The plantlets will arise from beside the leaves, and hopefully you will get 2, one from each little bloomstalk leaf!

I usually do a whole plant of bloomstalks, and put them all together, in a covered container. And wait. I do not disturb them at all again, just now and then I will check the moisture, and any growth. You need Patience, but it is well-rewarded, in time.

So don't ever throw your chimera bloomstalks away, give it a go...!


I use and try different fertilizers for my plants, and use a different one regularly each time I use fertilizer, which is 3 out of 4 refills of the reservoirs. About every 4th refill, plain water is used, to help flush out the fertilizer build-up in the pots. This isn’t always enough for some plants, and they then require an occasional pouring through of plain water through the pot, called Leaching.

The fertilizers I use are usually balanced ones, I don’t even use Bloom Boosters for a Show, as I have found that I have plenty enough bloom without it.

The latest Fertilizer I have been using is Miracle Gro, fairly new to New Zealand and Australia. It is good for all kinds of house and garden plants, and Wick Watering, and Foliar Feeding, and also Transplant Shock. So it is very suitable to use when potting up babies and plantlets, etc. I have been successful in our latest Show using this fertilizer, plus a few others, with wick-watering, bottom watering, top watering, and also using it for Foliar Feeding.


If you do not have this, then any African Violet mix is okay, BUT FIRST you must add either or both Perlite and Vermiculite to lighten it, as the purchased potting soil is usually too heavy. Adding Polystyrene beads or small chips are also other ways to lighten the mix.

Soilless 1-1-1 mix is: 1 part Peat 1 part Perlite and 1 part Vermiculite, with a little Dolomite Lime added and Charcoal. This mix is dampened, until it holds it shape in the hand. And I do particularly like the Polystyrene beads in it as well.


My usual Rooting Mix is 50% Perlite and 50% Vermiculite mixed together, and dampened. This is what I use for all my AV leaf cuttings and all other gessie cuttings.

This is what I do:-

I measure out equal portions of the Perlite and Vermiculite, taking care not to breathe the perlite dust in!!! Ours here at the moment, is only Medium Grade, (but in my opinion, it IS Fine Grade!) so is pretty dangerous and just awful to use.

I pour in water, and stir it well. I add water until the mix doesn't "move" but is still quite light. I don't measure the water.

This mixture I store in a clean plastic tub with a lid, and it is always on hand to use. I have a large tub for each ingredient I use, now, and also this rooting mix.

I believe it stays sterile in these conditions, indefinitely. It always appears to look the same to me.

When I plant the leaves and cuttings in this rooting mix, I will put the mix in a container or pot and level it off flat pressing gently, plant the item, then gently water it in, with a very little warm water. This sets the cutting in firm and in contact with the mix. Then I drain, and cover. Or not, depending on what it is. In the colder weather I like to cover everything, if possible. Most especially anything in Quarantine.

This method is proving really time-saving, and when I see the mix is getting low, I will make some more up, before I need it, as when I need it, the pressure is on!


Trailers are a real favourite of mine, they are so rewarding and easy to grow, and usually flowering all year round.

Trailers come from the following original species: Grotei, goetziana, magungensis, pendula, and inconspicua. Grotei was the first one used for hybridising.

There are two types of trailers - full trailing stemmed ones, and semi-trailers, bushy ones that just inch along. There are Standards, semis, miniature and microminiature ones. And they come in all bloom colours and various leaf forms and variegated as well.

Some I recommend to beginners are - Pixie Blue Trail, Dancin Trail, Snowy Trail, Gypsy Trail, Pixie Pink Trail. (There are several others). I suggest getting a few of these and gaining experience on them, they are hard to kill. The species trailers are also different and interesting to grow, and you can learn from their growth habits.....

Grow them in squat pots too, and also make sure the plant is in proportion to the pot size. As the plant grows, you pot up to a bigger pot. Trailers love to be repotted and this stimulates their growth also. To make it easier to work with, let the plant wilt a little first, this helps with the many breakages of leaves... Don’t wilt it too much or you will kill off some root hairs and the plant will go downhill instead.

I wick the trailers like I do all other violets, they drink an incredible amount because of their many leaves, stems, and flowers, and require heavier feeding than rosette violets. I myself only give slightly heavier doses of fertilizer sometimes (most of the time I use the same) ... For lots of bloom, give lots of light, and make sure they are well-turned in natural light for evenness of growth.

They need a suitable place for when they get larger and mature so that they can cascade down and around without being constantly knocked and spoilt. The semitrailers need less space as they go bushy and round.

They thrive on regular grooming; take off any early flowers to encourage more growth rather than flowers, so that the plant will keep growing to a good size. Take off damaged, discoloured or oversized leaves or ones poking out the wrong way, pinch out the tips of the branching stems, from each pinch will come 3 further shoots/stems. Removing leaves actually stimulate the plants to grow more, so don’t be frightened to. You aim for leaves all over of the same size.

The semitrailers don’t usually require this as they normally bush up on their own; they need regular tidying so that they are neatly round; not sticking up like a hedgehog! Make sure all leaf stubs are neatly removed. Putting pin holes in the stems can help with stubborn ones that wont send out branches.

When rejuvenating a trailer and it is partly or fully denuded of leaves, giving humidity is very beneficial and the plant soon regrows. When it is well covered again with leaves, it may be “hardened off” from the plastic bag, or whatever clear container it was covered in. You all know what “Hardening of” is! - gradually exposing the plant to the air and conditions the other plants are growing in.

Trailers may be propagated with leaves and or with cuttings or prunings. Cuttings do save a lot of time in getting a new plant, but propping from leaves, sometimes you get something new or different! I recommend doing this.


More Tips and Techniques will be added from time to time, do call back!


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