In any color, African violets add a touch of mid-winter beauty
There is a lavender hue in the skies this month that I seldom see at other times of the year. Sometimes it tinges an overcast February morning and other times it can be seen in the low cloudy sunsets.
The lavender of February is a dusky shade sometimes referred to as “old lavender.” Perhaps this shading in the February skies is one reason that the beautiful lavender amethyst was selected as the birthstone for this month.
Amethyst is a form of quartz with a very unique crystal structure which creates its rich, brilliant violet/lavender color. Though its name, amethyst (from the Greek word “amethystos”) means “not-intoxicated,” “amethyst-violet” along with the “old lavender” of the February skies are delightfully intoxicating treats for this mid-winter month.
Another lavender treat in February which can be found in a beautiful, delicate little houseplant, easily obtainable at many home and garden shops now, is the African violet. Originally native to the eastern tropics of Africa in Tanzania and Kenya, the “Saintpaulia” or African violet grew as a wild species in shades of light to deep violet and white. The standard variety of the plant could grow to 12 to 16 inches in diameter and 8 to 10 inches tall. The plant’s rounded or oval leaves were a deep green, fleshy, and covered with fine, hairy down. Originally the blooms of the plant were five-lobed and grew in clusters of three to 10.
African violets have been greatly hybridized and developed over the years, and today we have much greater variety of colors including pinks, rose, red, blue, creams, bi-colors, multi-colors, and colors with contrasting borders. Bloom shapes have also been developed from the single form to double, fringed, semi-double, ruffled, etc. African violet foliage types now include quilted, ruffled, scalloped and variegated colors.
Over the years, these little lavender beauties have really been developed and improved and are a fabulous houseplant. There is literally an African violet for almost any plant taste. For more information on types and varieties of African violets see http://www.avsa.org/Home:htl.
African violets are not “picky houseplants” but they do have basic needs that, if met, will result in healthy, happy, almost continuously-blooming plants. These plants require plenty of light but not direct sunlight. A location near an east or north facing window works well, or the plants can be grown under artificial lighting (two 40 watt fluorescent tubes placed at about 12” to 18” above the flowers).
Watering African violets should be done when the soil is dry to the touch. Use room temperature water and apply it directly to the soil while keeping the leaves and crown dry. Water thoroughly until it drips from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. An ideal temperature level for this plant is between 65 and 75 degrees with moderate humidity levels.
Plants being grown near windows in the winter may need to be moved at night to keep them from chilling. When fertilizing this plant, use a balance formula (equal parts nitrogen phosphorus and potassium) and apply as directed on the fertilizer package. If plant growth begins to slow or the leaves begin to fade on your flower, fertilizer is needed.
African violets can be propagated from leaf cuttings and new plants can be easily started in the home. For more information on African violet care: www.theplantexpert.com/africanviolets, www.youtube.com/watch african violets.com, www.ehow.com/how/africanviolets, www. gardenweb.com/faq/lists/africanviolets.com.
February garden tips: Now is a great time to check your trees and shrubs for damaged branches. Because there is no foliage growing now, it is much easier to see cracks and breaks in limbs.
Want a taste of spring in your home now? Cut off some branches from flowering shrubs or trees in your yard such as forsythia, crabapple, pear, cherry, etc. Bring them indoors and place in a vase of water. Set the vase in a sunny location and in a short time, you’ll have bright blooms to provide some fresh, spring color in your home.