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Gardening: A bit of physical violets; THE HEAT IS ON.

Byline: ADRIENNE WILD

AFRICAN violets can become either pets or problems. If they're your pet plant you're no doubt one of those smug people who has mastered the art of keeping them happy and performing year after year.

The skill though is not so much in your green fingers but in the conditions you keep them.

African violets love light and while a south-facing window means death in summer, at this time of year it spells success. Take them off the windowsill at night, as this is the coldest place in the room.

In summer move them to a north-facing window or protect them from becoming scorched by installing net curtains.

An ideal night-time temperature is 54F, but in the daytime up to 75F will make your plant feel at home. If it's hotter then stand the plant on a tray filled with 3cms of gravel and 1cm of water. This will raise the humidity to create the atmosphere that these plants enjoy.

African violets have both fleshy leaves and stems, so are fairly prone to rotting at the base of the leaves. To overcome this I always water from the bottom, sitting the plant in a saucer and filling it with water.

When removing damaged leaves and spent flowers, do not leave any stubs. After a hefty spring clean you can dry off the centre of the plant with a puff of yellow or green sulphur dust, which is available from garden centres. By doing this you'll avoid any fungal infections getting a foothold.

It's essential to feed the plants regularly. A houseplant food that's specially formulated to make flowers rather than foliage is ideal. Buy one that's rich in potash not nitrogen.

When you've got to grips with growing them, your friends will beg you for cuttings.

Show off your skills by rooting them in water. It's easy to do, snip off a leaf, complete with stalk, making sure that you've not left a stump behind to rot.

Fill a glass with tepid water and cover with cling film, then puncture a hole to slip in the cutting so that the leaf rests out of the water. Within a few weeks roots will sprout, and when they are well-established pot up the plant in the normal way taking care not to damage the roots.

Alternatively root your cuttings in compost, making sure that all but the base of the fleshy leaf is supported above the moist soil.

Forget checking for roots... the first signs of success will be tiny shoots that are seen sprouting from the base of the leaf at soil level.

Grow these new plants in dappled light and take extra care when watering.

It'll take a couple of years for these youngsters to have the energy to flower but it'll be worth the wait.

CAPTION(S):

OUT OF AFRICA: The stunning Saintpaulia Eglert Purple violet
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 24, 2002
Words:480
Previous Article:Gardening: JOBS FOR THE WEEK.
Next Article:Your letters: Police in the dock.


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