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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 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

"Remove Water sprouts from Apple Trees"

Q. This inquiry relates to the so-called "water sprouts," those largely vertical, straight, fast-growing branches that form on my three apple trees. I seem to get more and more of them each year even though I cut virtually all of them off each spring before the trees blossom. Is this the correct thing to do? I understand they never bear fruit. If so, why? Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

A. Water sprouts on apple trees are shoots from a dormant bud on an old branch. They are easy to identify because they grow straight up from the surface of the branch. They don't produce fruit because they have no flower buds, only leaf buds. Vigorously growing fruit trees produce the most water sprouts.

The best time to prune fruit trees is in late winter, while they're still dormant. The timing of your pruning may be what's encouraging so many water sprouts. By pruning them off just before the apple tree blossoms you may be encouraging more water sprouts to form by pruning so late. Try to do all of your pruning during the dormant season which would be no later than late winter here in western Massachusetts.

Always prune away water sprouts. Since they don't produce fruit, they can weaken the tree by crowding other branches and blocking sunlight. Avoid excessive "tip pruning." Tip pruning is removing only the growing tips of branches. This generates even more growth, including water sprouts. When pruning, try to remove entire branches at a time. This will generate less vegetative growth. Prune away damaged branches, as well as those that cross over one another or rub together. Try to leave an open center in the tree to allow for maximum sunlight to reach all the branches. I use ratchet pruners for all my wintertime pruning. They're comfortable and easy to use.

An apple tree should be pruned so that its branches are horizontal to the main leader. Horizontal branches are the strongest branches and can best support a heavy crop of fruit. Horizontal branches tend to produce better crops of fruit, also. This also allows maximum sunlight to reach the branches. Proper pruning also ensures good air circulation, which is important in preventing apple tree diseases.


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