Friday, February 09, 2007

So What's Really Bugging You?

It seems that insects of some type are pretty much a constant if you have significant numbers of plants. Some are a serious threat to your plant collection and others merely pests. Springtails and fungus gnats are in the pest category, but pest often times is spelled with a capital “P”. As a matter of fact, the whole word is capitalized sometimes. There is nothing as nice as having a dinner party in progress and a stupid fungus gnat decides to aim for your guest’s nose.

This article is not a scientific “what works best for what”. It’s just to give you couple ideas of what’s out there. And there are sooooooo many things to consider when you choose an insecticide:

Are your plants in a room that can be closed off?

Do you have children or pets?

How toxic is the insecticide?

Do you have allergies?

So, the bugs I have dealt with over my years of growing African violets are fungus gnats, springtails, soil and foliar mealybugs, white flies, aphids, mites, scale, thrips and root knot nematodes. Do I have fun or what?!?!?

This is a battery operated device that is activated every 15 minutes. It is relatively safe and is even recommended for kennels and barns. Turn it on for a few consecutive nights and it does a great job on flying insects. This is especially helpful in the summer when the windows are open every day.

If you absolutely want to avoid any type of chemicals, go for the sticky strips or pinguiculas. Pings are carnivorous plants and some have very attractive blossoms. Both of these will work for flying insects. Keep in mind that since pings are in regular potting medium, they are susceptible to any type of soil pest.

There are a number of different sprays. Check the ingredients and on what they are supposed to be effective. Some are more hazardous than others. Insecticidal soap if a very safe alternative, but may not be nearly as effective as chemicals. You personal preferences and plant locations will be a factor in choosing the appropriate spray. These will work on flying and crawling critters.

Sevin is great for soil or folier mealybugs; but not for African violets. It is kept around to treat orchids. Basically, on my AVs, for soil mealies I save a leaf or top a chimera, treat it with a bleach solution and toss the root ball. For foliar mealies it is spraying and wiping with alcohol dipped cotton swabs.

AVID is a mitacide. It does a great job; but is highly toxic.

Systemic insecticides are supposedly good for soil mealybugs and thrips. However, they can be smelly and many are toxic.

Terro?? Yes, if you have enough orchids with enough blooms and enough nectar dripping, the ants will find them. Plus, for some reason we have an infestation of ants NOW in the middle of winter. Good old Terro to the rescue.

So what about a few of the other pests? Thrips - try flea and tick collars for dogs. Scale- wash the plant and dab critters with alcohol. Root knot nematodes - toss the plant. Earwigs and spiders - most sprays work. Springtails - lots of luck!

Oh, by the way! Many of us like to use chlorine bleach to kill any possible pests when washing our pots, trays and work area. We all know that you do not mix bleach and ammonia. Now I may be the only one dumb enough not to have thought of this, but………. I always thought it would clean better if some soap was added. Spic and Span - NO. Ajax dish detergent - NO. Sun Light dish detergent - NO. All say NOT to use with chlorine bleach, so check all products labels.

Many thanks to Barb Werness for this article and excellent pictures!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

So That's How They Do It!!!

Or, How to Propagate Strep Leaves the Easy Way.

Take a clean, healthy leaf off a a strep plant. Check for any signs of insects or other problems. Do you notice all the leaf veins on the back of the leaf?

Cut the midrib out of the leaf and toss the midrib away.

Cut the remaining leaf halves into smaller sections of perhaps an inch or two.

Put the CUT, interior edge of your leaf section (where the veins were cut through) into the moist starting mix. Cover the pot with a light-weight plastic bag loosely put over the pot to act as a "greenhouse". Or, put the starter pot in some sort of larger clear container like the type that comes from the deli dept. of the grocery.

Baby streps should start to grow where the cut leaf-veins were inserted into the soil. Note in the picture that the smaller leaves are centered around the main veins of the "mother" leaf where it is buried in the soil.

Streps are easy to propagate by this method but there are a couple of tips to help the novice. Don't make the soil mix soggy. It should be nicely moist. Have some holes punched in your deli container to help with air circulation or if you use the plastic bag method, do not seal the plant into the bag. Remember to check periodically for babies and to see if the soil mix is staying slightly moist.

Next: How to pot up the babies and increase your collection the easy way! Thanks to Sharon Johnson for the wonderful photos!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Grandma's Violets

How many of you remember what got you interested in African violets? I remember them since I was a very small child. My grandmother had windows full of them. At the time, I thought they came in all sorts of colors, little did I know that currently my grandmother would have been tempted to expand her collection into the thousands.

She had glass shelves across the windows that were in the kitchen. It just so happened that they were perfectly placed to be in the north and east side of the kitchen where she tended them daily. Eventually, there was a 4' plant stand in the basement, but the ones in the windows were the ones that she was most proud of.

Our family is pretty sure that she was one of the rather "original" members of the Minnesota Club... or at least that is what my mother remembers. Since she was living in a rural community, she would jump in a car with other ladies with names like Bessie and Emma and drive to the cities for a meeting. I would be most interested if anyone in the MN club has really old membership registers. I would love to know if this was actually the club that she was in.

My grandmother's one wish (violet-wise) was for a green violet. I joined our club after talking to the nicest lady ever, Retha, who told me how to acquire a green violet. I got one for myself and for my grandma! Grandma thought that was really exciting and ended up showing it to most everyone in that small town (by the sounds of it). My grandma enjoyed her plants till shortly before she died at age 93! I wish that I would have had the opportunity to have one of her original plants, but as you can see from the photos, all faded and at least 22 years old, I still have pictures to keep the memories of all the cookies I ate in that kitchen and the flowers on the shelves fresh in my mind!

How did anyone else get involved in the clubs originally? When did you start to grow violets? Do you have any really old ones? Write in and tell us!