COPING WITH AN AFRICAN VIOLET

Over the years I have noticed that by and large people interested in gardening are generous to a fault in passing on plants and cuttings and will often go out of their way to help each other out.  This weekend I was visited by a neighbour clutching a small plant pot containing a very sad and thirsty African violet.  She told me that she was hoping to find a home for it as she really didn’t know what to do with it.  My record with houseplants isn’t good, from bitter experience I have found that (for me) the best way to deal with the ones I am either given or buy is to treat them the same way I do cut flowers and dispose of them before they either become leggy, leafless or have simply given up and died. But in a moment of weakness I agreed to give it a home – perhaps this time it will be different.

I thought my best course was to read up about the care of African violets (Saintpaulia) and soon discovered that they are one of our most popular houseplants.  They come in a variety of pink and purple shades and have shallow root systems with leaves that are generally round or oval and somewhat hairy.  They like to be in a bright but not sunny position and are happy in artificial light.  High humidity is essential so for best results stand on a tray of moist pebbles.  Water your plants moderately, just enough to make the compost moist and don’t water again until the top of the pot feels dry. To ensure flowering feed at every watering with a really weak (no more than one-quarter strength) dose of liquid fertilizer containing equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphate and potash. So far so good but when it comes to repotting it gets a bit more complicated as their needs are quite specific.  I have decided to take the easy way out and invest in a special mixture from my local garden centre.

Oh dear, what have I taken on?

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