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"Unique African Violets: Part II - Miniatures and Trailing"

If there was ever a popularity contest held for flowering houseplants, the gesneriad family of plants would win hands down. This family includes the all-time, most-popular house plant, the African violet.

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 types 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.

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.

Semi-miniature, miniature, and microminiature types are smaller plants with tiny leaves. The smallest types often have leaves less than a half inch long and grow well in pots the size of a thimble. These diminutive plants are topped with clusters of brightly-colored, miniature flowers. As with the standard types, semi-miniature, miniature, and microminiature African violets have a wide range of flower colors and shapes. There are single, semi-double, and double flowers. Many also have attractive variegated leaves with a variety of markings.

Trailing African violet types have stems that cascade over the side of the pot, making them good candidates for a hanging basket. Many are semi-miniature types with small leaves and clusters of small flowers, but what they lack in size they more than make up for in the abundance of leaves and flowers. One of my favorite trailing types bears pure-white, double flowers held above small, bright-green leaves.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Salt Damage Very Common on Potted Plants"

Q. I started bird of paradise plants from seed about seven years ago. Only three of the eight or so seeds have survived to this time. On the existing plants the beautiful leathery leaves turn brown on their edges as soon as they appear. I have trimmed off several through the years. I understand that they should be blooming by now, and am holding my breath. I have nursed and nurtured these plants through the years and do not want to lose them. I put them outdoors during the late spring/summer/early fall. I can't decide if they like being misted or not. I let the soil dry out between waterings. During the winter they are in a south-facing window, with indoor heat set on about 60 degrees. I've seen them in their natural habitat in California and Mexico and really want my plants to flower. Any information or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

A. Bird of paradise is native to subtropical South Africa so that gives you a clue as to what this plant needs for growing conditions when grown as an indoor plant. It is not a difficult plant to grow. The growing conditions you mentioned you are providing are pretty much in line with what it likes. The most important points to remember with this plant are its need for at least four hours per day of direct sunlight for flowering and cool (55 degrees) winter rest period. Also, plants grown from seed can take anywhere from five to 10 years to produce any flowers. Misting the plants with water will help raise the humidity around the plants which would be helpful in wintertime to counteract the dry indoor air.

On many different house plants dry air, as well as insufficient watering, can cause leaf margins and tips to turn light brown or tan, but if the dead areas of the leaves are dark brown or black, then that is a symptom of a more serious problem known as salt damage.

Salt damage is very common on all potted plants. Usually the browning occurs on the oldest leaves first, but in severe cases the new leaves will also show symptoms. The damage is caused by soluble salts which are absorbed by the roots and deposited in the leaf margins and tips. At high levels, leaf tissues are killed.

There are several sources of salts including water, fertilizer, or the potting soil. Salts accumulate over time and oftentimes you'll see a crusty, yellowish material building up on the soil's surface or on the pot. Salt damage happens to all potted plants but is very easy to cure and prevent.

You can cure further salt damage by leaching excess salts from the soil by flushing with lots of water. If you can, take the potted plant to the bathtub and water it thoroughly with clear water (no fertilizer added), then let it drain. Do this process at least a few times in a row. You'll see the water coming out the drainage holes will be brown in color. If you use a saucer, dump the water 15 minutes after each watering.

For large plants that are too heavy to move you can use a turkey baster to empty the saucer. You never want to let a plant sit in water and all pots or planters need drainage holes.

You can prevent salt damage by regularly leaching the soil this way. I recommend doing this to all potted plants at every fourth watering. At each fourth watering flush the soil with clear water several times and let it drain away. This will prevent the soluble salts from accumulating and will go a long way in improving your potted plants' health.

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