I thought I'd include a page on how I grow my African Violets, and tips I've picked up along the way.  But, before I begin...This is just what works for me!  There isn't one right way to grow African Violets.  If you have a method that works then fantastic.  Remember...If it ain't broke, don't fix it!


Growing African Violets Miniviolet's Way


Soil and Repotting
I make my own soil mix.  I use one part perlite, one part vermiculite, and one part peat.  I buy equal bags of the 3, dump them into a large trash bag, and roll it around to mix!  This mix works well for wick watering which is what I use.  If you water each plant individually without wicks then you may need a mix a little heavier with peat.  Traditional store bought mixes have too much peat in them.  This makes the soil too heavy and retain too much water and drowns the plant.

In the perfect world:  AV's should be repotted every 6 months.  Take this time to carefully inspect the rootball of your plant for any "critters".  If the plant is getting necky, then gently scrape the neck with a knife to remove the dry brown "scars" until you see the green underneath.  Repot your plant lower in the pot so that the bottom row of leaves are just above the pot rim.  You may need to trim off part of the rootball so that it will fit.  Don't be afraid!  Just take a knife and chop off what you need to.  New roots will grow from the scraped off neck.  The "rule" for choosing pot size is that the diameter of the pot should be 1/3 the diameter of the plant.  Move up to a 3 or 4 inch pot with the plant is 9-12 inches in diameter.  They like to be slightly root bound.

In my world:  If I'm really doing good then my plants get repotted about once a year.


Watering
I use the wick watering method for all my violets and gesneriads.  My wick is a piece of 100% acrylic 3-ply yarn.  When I pot up a plant, I run the piece of yarn up through one of the drain holes and circle it around the bottom of the pot, then run it up the side to the top.  I put a small layer of perlite over the ring of yarn, then fill the rest of the way with my potting mix.  TA DA!  Pretty easy!

In the perfect world:  The most common cause of "death" for an AV is over-watering.  As long as you keep it on the wick and keep the reservoir full you shouldn't have a problem with that.  The soil is constantly wet, but since it is a light soil mix, it is OK.  If you don't use a wick you can water 2 ways.  Place the pot in a saucer or room temp water for about 30 minutes and let it take up what it wants.  This should be done whenever you can stick your finger in about 1/3 and the plant is dry.  If it is wet, don't water.  The second way is to water from the top with room temp water, being careful not to get the center of the plant wet.  Water until it starts to flow through the bottom of the pot.

In my world:  If the reservoir and wick are allowed to get completely dry it won't take up water again the next time you fill the reservoir.  Water from the top once until the water runs through the bottom and gets the wick wet, then it will take up water again.


Lighting
My plants stands are home-made by my husband (isn't he sweet!).  The are 3 shelves each made of wood and trimmed and stained to look a little more like furniture than a plant stand.  They are not nearly as big and wide as a true plant stand like you see in the catalogs, but it helps me keep my collection a little more in check!  Each shelf has a shop light mounted over it with one warm and one cool white flourescent light.  They stay on about 12 hours a day, controlled with a timer.


Fertilizer
I am currently using Hill Country African Violet's Fertilizer.  I am very happy with it.  I occasionally use a bloom booster close to show time. 

In the perfect world:  Feed your plants with 1/4 strength fertilizer at every watering if you are wick watering.  If you water individually into the pot, then use 1/2 strength.  The fertilizer salts will build up in the plants over time, so about once a month you should flush your plants.  Just hold the plant over the sink and run plain room temp water through it until the water running out the bottom of the pot is clear.  Another good thing to do while you are at the sink with your plant is give it a bath.  Yes!  They love to have their leaves cleaned.  Make sure the water is room temp and gently wash the leaves to remove the dust and grime that builds up.  Be careful not to let any water pool up in the center of the plant.  When you are done use a paper towel to blot off any accumulated water on the plant and let them dry before placing them back under the lights.  If you put them back in bright light while they still have water on the leaves it could burn them.

In my world:  I do fertilize at almost every watering.  But many days I'm doing good just to pour any water into the reservoirs!  And of course on these kind of days they are all dried out and I have to pour the water through the pot to re-wet the wick!  I figure this counts as flushing in my book!!  I maybe do a real honest to goodness flushing about once a year.  Ditto on the bath.


Vendors I have used and highly recommend

Violet Venture (Fay Wagman)--A great collection of minis and semis, also some standards and other gesneriads.  Email at FayW@aol.com.  She has a fantastic collection of "different" leaf and blossom types.  (girl, clacamas, bustle back, wasp, bell, etc, etc!)  Terrific service and very affordable.

Violet Gallery--Wonderful service.  I will definitely order from them again if I ever have room for more violets!  www.violetgallery.com.


Misc. "Stuff"


Over time I have collected interesting notes on "how to".  Some of them I've tried, some I haven't.  Maybe they'll work for you!  These are just notes and parts of discussions on different forums.  They are not in a particular form.  I've put my comments about each one in green before the note.

We're talking birth controls pills here!  If you can find a lady willing to give up some pills give it a try!  Supposed to make some really nice plants.
"I read that you dissolve one pill in a quart of water and use 4-5 drops of that in each gallon of fertilizer mix. Since I have to make things easier, I found that the eye-dropper from the pet Amoxicillin holds 8-10 drops and I had a 1/2 gallon jug rather than a quart jug, so I used one pill in a half gallon of water and put one spurt of that 1/2 gallon in each gallon of fertilizer. One pill goes a very long way."

A home remedy for treating thrips.  I've used it with great results!
"I use 1/2 Teaspoon of RID's "Maximum Strength" shampoo for treating head lice, added to 1 quart of warm water in a spray bottle. Add the RID to the water, not the water to the RID, in order to reduce foaming. After you've secured the top to the spray bottle, mix it by turning the bottle upside down several times. Then, after fully disbudding your plants (this means removing ALL of the bloomstalks), spray the entire plant thoroughly and be sure to spray the undersides of the leaves.
Wear gloves, even dishwashing gloves, when using any kind of insecticide. Avoid inhaling the RID water mist. Keep the plant tilted while you spray so excess water runs off freely. Then leave the sprayed plants in the bathtub overnight to dry completely. Remove water that has collected in the crown (center) of the plant with a tissue; this helps prevent crown rot."

Part of an AVSA article for determining the cause of tight centers.
"The second article was a simple checklist for tight centers. Here is what it said:
  1. Place a piece of toilet tissue over the center of the plant for one week. If the center opens up your problem is light intensity.
  2. If center is still tight after a week it could be a pest or fertilizer problem. If leaves are curved up or down on the leaf margins and distorted, it is likely a mite problem.
  3. If there are no twisted or distorted leaves in the center, it is usually a fertilizer problem. Cut back on fertilizer for a month and you will see a marked improvement.
  4. If there is not change, consider when the plant was last repotted. the more rootbound a plant becomes, the tighter the center will grow. If this is the case, simply repotting will solve the problem."


My original post when I first switched to wick watering.  I was petrified of drowning them!
"Over the last week I have finally started changing my AVs over to wick watering. I guess I'm just looking for a little reassuring that I did things ok. I lightened my soil mix to 1/3 peat, 1/3 perlite, 1/3 vermiculite. I fed the wick up through the bottom of the pot and circled it around the bottom. I put a small layer of perlite on top of the "circle" of wick, and then used the potting mixture to fill the rest of the pot. The remainder of the wick continues up the side of the pot to the top. I normally fertilize with every watering, so I cut the normal amount of fertilizer to water in half. So far everyone looks ok, but it's only been a few days since the first ones were repotted. The majority of them weren't finished until last night. The soil will stay constantly moist with the wicks, right? Should I worry about them getting waterlogged? I guess this is my biggest concern since I'm just not used to my plants staying wet all the time, I always let them get slightly dry between waterings. I'd appreciate any advice, reassuring, or criticisms! If all goes well I'll start to transfer the rest of my collection to wicks.
Carol--who keeps sticking her fingers in the dirt to see how wet it is!"

Something to try for powdery mildew.  I haven't tried this yet.  (I've also heard to spray them with Lysol, I've tried this with limited success.  Make sure the Lysol spray isn't too close to the plant or it will be too cold)
"list friends- aside from good air circulation , i use physan 20-in my fertilizer water at each watering-1/2 teaspoon to one gallon of water- this time of year when 2 or 3 days are very warm[radical season changes] i set my furnance to 70 in case the night air drops down encouraging the dampnes to cause mildew- i run oscillating fans 24 hours daily blowing the air AWAY from the plants- i think prevention is best to discourage mildew- initially i spray the plants with physan 20 1 teaspoon to one gallon of water 3 times 10 days apart- the blooms will be spoilled ,no mildew- i did see a little powder on 1 bloom stalk last year for my first time in many years, i sprayed all hope to not see anymore-- physan can be ordered from. the violet showcase- volkmanns- cape cod vilotery-- tertius"

Haven't tried this one
RE: Soil mealies
Posted by: Ron Myers (granny_grampa@...) on Mon, Apr 3, 00 at 2:16
Mealies both folage and soil can be stopped with a mixture of 1/3 each rubbing alcohol, ammonia, warm water. Submerge the plants pot and all into this solution. Keep it in until the bubbles stop. Remove and let drain freely for about 30 min. Thoroughly rinse the entire planting with fresh water and let drain again. After the water stops I like to tip the pot to about 45 degrees to encourage as much water out as is possible. I have even removed the plant from the pot and dried the root ball with an old dish towel. I have never lost a plant of any kind to this treatment but I am sure there will be a time when that will happen as the plants are usualy not in top form when you do this. The alcohol seems to evaporate quickly and the remaining ammonia becomes fertlizer for the plant. Keep a wide eye on the planting looking out for any sign of the infestation reestablishing. You can retreat but take care not to over water the plant. The towel drying helps this allot. Good luck and O you might need a clothes pin for your nose.

Another one I haven't tried
Posted by: Nancy - Colorado  on Fri, Jul 14, 00 at 20:18
I just read in Organic Gardening about using milk to combat mildew. Mix one part milk to nine parts water and spray your plants. I haven't tried this, but it couldn't hurt and it would be a non-toxic solution for those of us who don't like to use chemicals. If you try this, let me know if it works.

Haven't done this either, but I'm going to if those *@$! mealies come back again!!  Following the first post are several more related on critters and other nasties.  Good reading!
For soil mealies:
Bill, get some Marathon, sprinkle about 1/2 to 1 teasp, depending on the pot size, over the top of the soil, then VERY LIGHTLY water it in.  If you wick water it will continue to dissolve and the roots take it up and kill the smb, they also die on contact. If you don't wick water you need to keep the soil moist at all times.  That's the easiest and most painless method to get rid of smb.  Good luck and Happy New year to you!

To All:

Soil Mealy Bugs
Soil Mealy bugs can go undetected for a great time if you don't repot your plant.  Severly of the insect depends on the bigness of the colonials. Detection of Soil Mealy bugs can be seen by dupely leaves whether or not if the soil is wet or not.
Description of Pest:
Soil Mealy Bugs are soft-shelled insects, about the 1/32th of an inch long.  You need a 3X magnifying glass to view them.  The soil mealy bug is a furry white color.  They can be mist taken for perlite.  They colonize in the soil and move very slowly.  If you don't change soil frequently you might not know you have the pest until you have a major problem.
Identifying of Problem:
To be sure you are looking at soil mealy bugs, lift the African violet plant out of the pot and search for tiny white spots that move very slowly. You have an infestation of soil mealy bugs if you notice patches of white waxy webbing on the inside of the pot, on the roots or are even on the wicking material you use.  With a fine hand held magnifying glass, you will be ability to see the parallel ridges or lines on the back of the pest.  A very large infestation of soil mealy bugs will cause a plant to wilt even if the soil is damp.
Control and Cure:
There are several different ways to cure soil mealy bugs.  The best way to irradiate soil mealy bugs from your plants is soil drenching.  Set up a regular schedule that will give you 100 percent control of this pest. Several chemicals that work are Cygon, Diazinon, Di-Syston, Dursban, Dycarb, Enstar II, Insecticidal Soap, Malathion, Marathon, Nictine, Orthene, Pinpoint, / Velocity, PT-1300, PT-1500, PT-1600 X-Clude, Schultz Insect Spray, and Sevin.
1. In his book, Dr. Cole states that a drenching of pesticide of Thiodan will be a sure all cure. A spray program every week to 10 day for 3 to 4 times should cure the alignment.   Use caution!  This is a pesticide!  Pour over the entire soil area and allow to drain.  After 2 to 3 days repeat the trenching.  Follow up by placing Marathon granules in the soil mix.  Place into soil as you repot.  Follow correct instructions, Marathon needs to be damp to dissolve so that the roots can absorb it because it's a systemic.
2. A second pesticide Knox-Out spray can be used.  In some areas Knox-out is banned.  The pesticide is used as a drench or spray.  The key here is to I use 3.5 oz per gallon of distilled water. If you have individually wicked your plants, treating the problem becomes much easier.  The active ingredients of Knox-out, Diazinon, work on wet/dry basics.  The chemical is not released until it is completely dry.  The secret to chemical control for soil mealy bugs is to be sure the soil is 100% saturated with the chemical.
3. Another good pesticide is Duraguard PT 1325.  Either drench the soil or spray the roots of the plant after rising off the soil.  Repot the plant into new mix. which is
4. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) kills soft-shelled insects such as soil mealy bugs as they crawl across the DE. This product has a sharp edge and the insect scratches itself and cuttings the underside and literally bleeds to death.  The diatomaceous earth also, absorbs the fluids of the insect. Mix the DE between to 1 cup per gallon of mixing soil.  The use of the lesser amount for prevention and the use of the greater amount for infestations.  There are mixed reviews using the DE for control of soil mealy bugs.  Diatomaceous Earth is a non-toxic and a white dry powder.
5. Remove most of the leaves leaving just a small crown with a neck.  Cut the root ball off and throw away.  Scrape the neck and wash with rubbing alcohol just in case an unseen mealy bug is holding on.  Pot the crown with a small neck in new moist potting mix.  Enclose in a plastic bag till the roots are growing.  This usually takes about a month.  Open bag and let the plant slowly adjust to the room environment.  After a week, remove the bag.
6. The final and most drastic solution is the throw the plant out.

In the preventing a reoccurrence of soil mealy bugs and any other soil bug you should use Marathon, a granule systemic.  Be sure you mix the systemic (Marathon) and use what is mixed.  The shelf life of the soil mix with the Marathon in it then activated, is short lived.

I'd like to remind the group that there is another safe and effective method to deal with soilborne critters (for example, fungus-gnat larvae, soil-dwelling life stages of thrips, soil mealybugs)--predaceous nematodes. For those of you who do not want or cannot use chemicals, biocontrol with predaceous nematodes is an alternative. It's also a reasonably priced alternative (about $25 delivered), especially if you partner with one or two friends as I've done. It also ensures that we have fresh supplies of nematodes for treatment.

Consider using a several-species 'cocktail' of predaceous nematodes as a biocontrol method (applied to plants as a soil drench). A 'double-death mix' recommended/sold by Nature's Control (http://www.naturescontrol.com) uses species in two genera, Steinernema and Heterorhabditis. These genera partition the resources in your pot effectively since the Steinernema are shallow soil-dwellers and the Heterorhabditis live more deeply in the soil.

One of the benefits of using the predaceous nematodes routinely (as a prophylactic treatment) is that they consume any living thing in your pot--soil mealybugs, fungus-gnat larvae, and soil-dwelling stages of thrips. I appreciate that some people are squeamish at the thought of deliberately adding another organism to the mix. However, if there are no organisms in the soil for the predaceous nematodes to eat, they do not reproduce or persist (= die). So, what's not to love? This is true of any organism used for biocontrol.

The predatory nematodes arrive living in a piece of sponge. Cut the sponge into pieces. The entire piece contains about one million nematodes and is good for about 2500 square feet of growing area. Obviously, these suppliers are more used to dealing with outdoor gardeners and farmers with fields. With that potential area, you could treat more than once (4- to 6-week intervals)--or as we do here, share with friends! You rinse a piece with nematodes into a gallon of water and use that as a concentrate to mix up a number of gallons of nematodes. If your area is large or you water slowly, only make up enough to apply in 1 to 2 hours. Longer than 2 hours and the nematodes drown. These do have to be top watered in. This should be compatible with wick or mat watering.

You can store the extra bits of sponge in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months. My refrigerator cools unevenly, freezing lettuce if I don't put it in one of the crisper drawers. My mother's always surprised when she sees that one of those drawers has stratifying seeds, propagating bits of dormant bulbs, and other strange things. That's where the nematodes live at my house.

Commercial applicators use sprayers and it doesn't seem to do the nematodes any harm. Perhaps you could use an inexpensive pump sprayer to give a good spritz to the surface of the soil of each pot. It might go faster. I have a 1-quart, hand-held sprayer from KMart that I use to wash plants. You wouldn't want to use one that ever had pesticides mixed in it.  I'd also use a volume that I could swirl periodically to keep the critters well mixed in the water.

I don't see why you couldn't work at whatever speed you wish, if you're mixing smaller batches. Also, it doesn't have to all be done on the same day. The only major caveat is that you cannot let the soil mix dry out completely once you've applied the nematodes.
For those interested in more information on predatory nematodes, here's an interesting site as an FYI:
http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ent/biocontrol/pathogens/nematodes.html

Allison
(Denver)

O dear me!  The dreaded Pythium/Phytopthora...have I been there!! 
The most immediate thing you need to do is take a plant to your Ag Extension Office and have them do an analysis and MAKE CERTAIN that is what you have.  Next step, the DRP (dreaded ruthless pythium) is in and around at all times in the soil and most of the time it is 'off' and harmless.  Until it decides to 'activate', usually from stressful situations or other diseases/pests and then you can kiss your babies goodbye one by one.  Phyto is the same way...however, it is not a 'present' disease, it has come from somewhere and spreads like mad.  They are so awful...just like those evil cyclamen mites  ;-0  I lost most of my collection to DRP last summer, I would wake up in the morning and my centers would have just collapsed into mush.  So very traumatic.  I lost about 10 show plants.  Trauma.  Anyhoooo. 
1) Remove all wells and lids and wash with clorox bath. Dry. Repeat if you are as freaked as I was.
2) Let soil DRY and REPOT using new wicks. Have clorox drenched rag handy and wipe hands between each potting (again freaky me), wash hands often also.  DRP and Phyto are made 'worse' by wet/continuously damp soil.  Catch-22, huh, when you are wicking?  3)  Clean and wipe down ALL growing surfaces with heavy duty clorox bath.
4) Ditch any and all plants that even remotely look mushy/brown.  Be ruthless. Sorry. Put down leaves in their own terrariums (plastic cup with soil, holes in bottom, covered with plastic wrap on top), if you think you have some that will make it. Wash/swish in very light clorox bath first, then rinse and pat dry, though. 
If you use a watering wand or any other 'thing' that comes in contact with well water from well to well, dip in light mix of clorox/h20 between plant to plant well to well...no double dipping of soil or h20.  These steps should get rid of the DRP/P without chemicals. 
I was able to procure some Subdue...it STINKS to high heaven and it will make your plants SUCKER to higher heaven...avoid it!
Clorox and dry soil are your friend.  A bundle of prayers will help also!! 
Felicia