Thursday, January 11, 2007

Helpful Hints!

Well, I just finished a marathon repotting secession today. As usual, with the holidays, December repotting was completely neglected. So that meant both December and January needed to be done quickly before February came sneaking around the corner. The repotting prompted me to share with you some ideas that help me im my plant room.

There are a number of reasons your African violet could end up without roots. It may have developed a long neck or multiple crowns and needed to be broken down. I have always had good luck with planting the AV in a small pot and covering it with an inside-out zip-lock baggie. This forms a mini-greenhouse. After a couple of months check to confirm the plant is solidly rooted and remove the baggie. I will also do this if the root system seems to be a bit weak and want to be sure that the AV has sufficient moisture.

Using reservoirs is a great time saver for watering your plants. Plus, wicking can let you go for a couple weeks without worrying about them drying out. However, mineral build-ups and algae are a royal pain to clean. I line my reservoirs with white or clear plastic bags, add some water, press on the lid and then trim the excess bag. Be sure that the bags you use are completely waterproof. Many of the food bags and shopping bags are very thin and will ultimately seep. I use garbage bags and cut them to fit the reservoirs.

I usually have one or two trays of leaves at various stages of rooting or showing plantlets. However, sometimes space or time is not available to start a whole new tray. Put a couple tablespoons of whatever you use for a root starter mix in the corner of a sandwich size baggie. Prepare your leaves as usual, close the bag enough, but not necessarily air tight. I use a clothespin and clip them to my light fixtures. They can also be pinned to your curtains or any inventive way to have them near a light source. Check occasionally to be sure the medium is moist, but not too wet.

Thanks to Barb Werness for both the article and the great photos!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ordering Leaves the New Way!

I have been ordering leaves from the commercial growers since the early 80's. When I received the African Violet magazine I would send post cards to the businesses that advertised requesting their catalogues. Upon their arrival I would look over the lists of plants and spend hours and hours imaging what the flowers looked like. Finally, I would make a final decision and then I'd send in my order only to have it be shipped to me in May when it warmed up enough for them to send the plants without harming the leaves.

Yes, times have changed since then with the internet. Now days I go online, make my decisions, order them using a credit card and have them shipped Federal Express!

I believe I am getting plants that I'll like since I can see the pictures of the flowers. Although, sometimes my vision was not quite what it should have been. Quite often the commercial vendors will have pictures of the plants listed for sale. If they don't have a picture, I'll look in First Class and at other commercial vendor's listings. Hopefully, a picture of the foliage will also be shown because not only is the flower important, but so is the foliage. I particularly like plants with shiny dark leaves, which are large growing and have a contrast between the leaves and flowers, especially the variegated ones.

I also like them registered by the AVSA since it is my belief that registered plants are the best of the hybirdizer's "crop". Also, I like to enter in the Registered classes of our shows and it is required that the violets be registered.

However, if I like the plants from a particular hybridizer and if someone has them for sale and they aren't registered, I'll still order them. Sometimes they won't get around to registering them till later, and then I wished I had ordered them. Sometimes they are just not a good show plant!

I find it fun to grow a plant from a leaf into a beautiful show plant. There is less chance of having diseases or bugs and the growth pattern stays consistent since the plant has not had a change of environment or soil while it was growing to maturity.

Another reason I switched from the old style-ordering with all the waiting for the leaves to be delivered months later to the rather "instant" online ordering is that there are less substitutions. And, if I get plants in the winter months, they always seem larger than ones mailed in the spring. It also keeps me busy during our long winters although I actually miss the anticipation of a box or catalog arriving unexpectedly. Of course, there is a slight difference in the shipping costs when cold-weather ordering but I think the benefits outweigh the expenses. Besides, I bet the postcards cost more now too!

Thanks to Sharon Johnson for this article!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Chemical Factors Affecting Germination and Seedling Growth

The list yesterday posted an interesting comment that made me think of something that I've been wondering about for quite some time now. I hope you will find this line of thought (although a little long) worth pondering too.

In a posted conversation discussing the seeding of gesneriad and African violet seeds, comments were made about the effects of moving new seedlings as a way of either increasing their growth or stimulating further germination of other seeds that were sown, but hadn't germinated yet. Karen C. stated "Another reason for gently taking seedlings out of the pot when they are small is this leaves room for a possible 2nd set of germination from the seed. I’ve found this happens more often with species than with hybrids and I think it is natures way of making sure that if the first batch of seedling die off that the conditions may allow the 2nd batch to succeed." This remark about species seeds and nature providing a method of ensuring germination if something should cause the first seedlings to fail prompted me to think of a couple more comments that relate to gesneriad young and our interaction with them as home hobbyists.

Dale Martens has commented that a sure way to get a new seedling to grow faster is to "disturb" them. She moves/removes the seedlings from their pot and resets them every couple of weeks. At first people were skeptical, but many have shared the usefulness of this technique as really working well for them. I recall some speculation as to why this would work. Perhaps it was some sort of "stress" reaction by the plant. If it felt disturbed it put out more of something, perhaps hormones or growth regulators, to speed rooting and growth to ensure the plant's survival after disruption. Again, a plant reacting to conditions to ensure continued survival.

I was also talking to a fellow grower about growing streptocarpus. She said that she brushed up against the leaves and moved them occasionally like they might move if they were in the wind outdoors. She was quite satisfied with bothering to take time to do this because it seemed to produce stronger, healthier leaves. Yet another plant reaction to environmental conditions?

These three somewhat different lines of thought regarding the improved growth in rate and vigor of gesneriad young may all be connected. Why would moving plant material, be it seed, seedling or young affect growth?

A quote from the Annals of Botany states "The vertical distribution of seeds in sand determines the proportion of seeds that germinate after precipitation and acts to maintain seed banks over multiple years." I take this to mean that something about the position in the soil makes the seed either germinate or not as conditions change. Like the comment about the species gesneriad seed. When removing some of the seedlings a whole second set of seedlings might be produced. Are there chemical inhibitors produced by the germinating seedlings that stop other seeds (from either the same species or different ones) from growing? Is it an environmental condition such as position in the soil that makes the difference?

From the Florida Cooperative Extension Services document HS944 "Allelopathy refers to the beneficial or harmful effects of one plant on another plant, both crop and weed species, by the release of chemicals from plant parts by leaching, root exudation, volatilization, residue decomposition and other processes in both natural and agricultural systems." They go on to further state that different plant parts, not only the roots can produce chemical agents to affect growth.

Allelopathy is usually studied to determine the negative effects one plant reacting to the presence of another, but for our purposes what if there are beneficial compounds that are present when gesneriads experience movement. (Either by their roots in the soil or by the stems and leaves.) The folks at the Florida Extension Service are mainly talking about using one plant as a potential inhibitor for another, but for our discussion their points about the plant's ability to produce compounds to enhance growth is what is interesting to me. Can we as gesneriad growers learn anything useful from their observations? The publication went on to summarize the point much better that I could: "Furthermore, physiological and environmental stresses, pests and diseases, solar radiation, herbicides, and less than optimal nutrient, moisture, and temperature levels can also affect allelopathic weed suppression. Different plant parts, including flowers, leaves, leaf litter and leaf mulch, stems, bark, roots, soil and soil leachates and their derived compounds, can have allelopathic activity that varies over a growing season. Allelopathic chemicals can also persist in soil, affecting both neighboring plants as well as those planted in succession."

In conclusion, wouldn't it be interesting to see what was going on with the gesnerial seed and young from a chemical point of view? If we could locate what the plant produced naturally could we seriously speed up production of the plants that we enjoy keeping in our homes? Could identifying these particular growth regulators have any other interesting applications in relation to the home hobbyist?

Sources that were used: The comments about soil distribution: Annals of Botany 2005 95(4):649-659; doi:10.1093/aob/mci060

The comments about allelpathic activity are from:
This document is HS944, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: July 2003. Please visit the EDIS Web site at

2. James J. Ferguson, professor, Bala Rathinasabapathi, associate professor, Horticultural Sciences Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.