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by Pernell Gerver

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"Unique African Violets: Part I - Large Flowered"

African violet is an indoor plant prized for its clusters of colorful flowers held atop soft, felty leaves. It is one of the most popular house plants. It blooms nearly all year long, providing colorful flowers even during the bleak days of winter. Many also have attractive foliage that is as showy as its flowers. I grow dozens of different African violets, many quite unique, and am amazed at the wide range of colorful flowers and foliage there are. Click on a plant photo below to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Within African violets, hybridizers have developed hundreds of different varieties with a large range of flower color, shape, and size as well as leaf color. Flower color is extensive and includes just about every color of the rainbow, including green, with many variations and shades of colors. Some flowers have a blend of two colors on their flower petals and others are striped or blotched with contrasting colors. Flower shape includes single, semi double, and double. Many have smooth petal edges and others ruffled.

In addition, many have very attractive markings on the flowers. One of my favorite flower markings is a complementary band of color around the edge of the flower petals. The band is often a deeper shade of the flower color and in other instances it is a completely different color. On white-flowered types, for instance, the band is often a dark color such as deep blue or violet. Some pink- or rose-flowered types have a dark-pink band. On some lavender-flowered types the band is pure white. In addition to various colors, the thickness of the band varies as well and can be just a thin, barely-noticeable line or a quite wide and eye-catching stripe.

Another striking marking found on some African violet flowers is spots, speckles, or glitter. The spots or speckles are usually small and randomly placed on the flower petal. The color of the spots varies. In some instances it is a contrasting color that stands out against the petal. Pink flowers with blue speckles is a very attractive example of this type of marking. In other instances, the spots or speckles are yellow or white. Flowers with yellow or white markings are usually a dark color such as deep blue or purple and the white or yellow speckles almost look like tiny stars on the flowers. Many African violets have flowers that seem to be dusted with glitter. In the right light, the flowers almost sparkle. This glitter marking is often combined with other markings such as spots, speckles, or complementary bands of color.

Along with a wide variety of flower colors and markings, there are also many different types of foliage within African violets. Various shades of green are common, but it is not the only color. Variegated forms are abundant and within the variegation, there is a lot of variation. Many types have just a thin band of white or pink around the outer edge of its leaves. In other types, the variegation is more extensive and is in the center of the leaf. Often, new leaves on these types emerge completely white then gradually change to a combination of white and green as the leaves mature. In other types, the variegation is on the outer portion of the leaf and covers nearly half the leaf with just a small part of the center of the leaf being green. White is not the only variegation color, either. In some types, especially those with pink or red flowers, the variegation is pale pink or pale red. This is a beautiful complement to the flowers.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Spider Mites Can Kill Plants If Not Treated"

Q. I have a Chinese fan palm and it has tiny red bugs on the underside of the leaves and what looks like spider webs in the same areas. What are they and how do I get rid of them?

A. What you are describing on your house plant sounds like spider mites. Spider mites are tiny, almost microscopic, pests of house plants as well as garden plants. You almost don't know they are there until you see their telltale webbing that you mentioned. Other signs that spider mites are present on a plant include stippled or yellowed leaves. Leaves often dry out and drop off. A way to check for spider mites is to hold a piece of white paper under the affected leaf and tap the leaf. The spider mites will drop onto the paper and begin to crawl around. They are easy to see against the white paper.

Spider mites damage plants by sucking sap from the undersides of the leaves. If left untreated, spider mites can kill a plant. Spider mites can multiply rapidly, especially during dry weather. With the heat on indoors during winter, the air is pretty dry, providing the ideal environment for spider mite populations to become a serious infestation quite quickly.

As serious as spider mites are, they can be controlled. I have found what works best for getting rid of spider mites is Neem Oil. The formulation I use is an excellent miticide, killing existing adult mites and preventing other stages from developing into adults. The oil component of Neem Oil smothers the eggs. Spray the entire plant, making sure to coat the undersides of the leaves where they are feeding. Spray every seven to 10 days to control successive generations.

To prevent future infestations of spider mites or other insects or diseases on existing house plants, quarantine any newly-purchased house plant for a couple of weeks and treat it with Neem Oil to kill any pest or disease that may be hiding on the plant.

Click here to read more about Neem Oil and order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

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