Farm Horizons, February 2013

The art of watering violets

A reader recently asked me, “why is it that I cannot grow violets?” I just do not know how and when to water them, can you help?

This is a common question, and I found expert detailed information from Charles Fischer of Cornell University along with some tips of my own.

Violets are one of those tropical plants, which means they need heat, light, and humidity. The best range for temperature is 65 to 70 degrees, with warmer temperatures during the day. You will notice it is too cold if the leaves curl and bend down from their normal upright position. The leaves will also be a lighter green color, along with hardly any flowers. If it gets below 55 degrees, the foliage may turn brown, and perhaps even die.

Take the temperature in the area where you have the plants, to assure they are in the correct temperature. Windows are the coolest part of the home. Keep violets away from the windows and doors during the winter months.

They do require quite a bit of water. The surface should be moist to the touch at all times, but not soaked. Apply water when the surface of the soil begins to feel dry.

When there is not enough moisture, the flowers decline rapidly, buds will not develop and the leaves will wilt and curl. Brown spots may appear and the leaves turn brown.

When there is too much moisture, the air in the soil is reduced and the root activity will be slowed down. Usually the first symptom of over watering is limp leaves, flower and bud drop, and a yellow-green foliage. Eventually, there will be brown tips and edges of leaves, and there is no new growth.

The methods of water are a constant debate. You may not realize this, but they can be watered from both the bottom and top neither way is best. The most important point to remember is to water evenly and saturate the entire soil each time you apply water. Don’t just dribble a bit in.

When watering from the top, apply enough water so there is excess draining out of the bottom of the container. This will require a well-drained growing medium, because if excess water stays at the crown or top of the plant it promotes disease.

There are specially-mixed violet planting mediums in stores now. It is highly-recommended to use those.

Bottom watering distributes moisture evenly throughout the soil and prevents excess water from collecting at the base stems of the plant. Set the pots with drainage holes in a deep saucer. Excess water left in the saucer should be removed within one hour of watering or as soon as the soil feels moist. A simple error is to leave the saucer continuously filled with water. This will keep the plant excessively moist, and soon the root system will rot.

A disadvantage of watering from the bottom is that chemicals accumulate at the rim of the container or on the surface of the soil, brought up by the capillary action.

The excess chemicals of this type of watering may kill the plant. If you do water from the bottom, be sure to occasionally water from the top to dissolve the chemicals and bring them back down into the soil.

You can use drinking water if you do not have it run through a softener. If you have a softening system, you may kill the plants because of the sodium that the water leaves behind. It is recommended to use the water from a rain barrel, melted snow, water from humidifiers, or water used from defrosting the refrigerator. If you have a large percentage of fluoride in your water, use the untreated water.

It has also been proven that water on the leaves is not harmful to the leaves. What it really harmful is the temperature difference between the water and the leaf that causes spotting. To prevent this, use room temperature water because a difference of just 10 degrees will cause damage. Use a syringe of room temperature water to keep the leaves free of dust.

What type of container you have will also be a factor as to how frequent you have to water. The two best containers to use are a clay pot and hard plastic pot. Both of these types have drainage holes for removal of excess water. The main difference between clay and plastic is that clay is porous. Plastic will hold the moisture longer. Being the roots of a violet are fairly small, a 4-inch pot will work just fine for a large, mature plant. If you use a larger pot, there is excess soil moisture and every time you water it, the soil gets wetter and wetter.

Have a gardening question? Email Chris at cjinspirations@gmail.com.

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