Watering African Violets

     Over-watering is the most common reason for failure with violets. They die within a short time with the leaves turning jellylike and drooping over the pot rim row by row until even the central core of the plant rots away. If violets just die on you the problem is probably over-watering. If they live, but just wonít bloom the light is probably too dim for too much of the day. Not watering enough or on an erratic schedule rather than when the plants need it will cause violets to grow slowly and irregularly, but it usually wonít kill them.
Wick watering is a growing method which provides plants with proper water, fertilizer, and humidity. It is by no means fool proof, but can be a great improvement over traditional top or bottom watering. Start slowly with a plant or two and be sure that you are doing it properly. The wrong soil, too large a pot, or too much wick cord can kill a violet.
     A very simple way to try out wick watering is to cut a hole in the lid of an empty margarine container. Fill the margarine tub with water, snap the lid on and set the violet on the lid with the wick extending down into the water. If you dissolve some plant food in the water the plant can water and feed itself at the same time. When the plant has used up all of the water in the wicking container do not refill it right away. Let the violet sit on the empty container for 3 or 4 days so that the soil can dry out a bit, then refill the container. Never let the bottom of the pot sit in the water as this will over-water the plant and may cause the roots to begin to rot.          

     Every 6 or 8 weeks when the soil happens to be nearing dryness (and the reservoir is dry) top water the violet with warm water until it drains out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. Leave the violet sit over the dry reservoir until the soil begins to dry out again. Then resume wick watering. This top watering with plain water is called flushing. It rids the root system of the gradual build up of fertilizer salts which can be harmful. For wick watering to be successful it is best to use a soilless mix such as Violet Showcase Potting Medium which is made of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite and charcoal. Ordinary violet soil, no matter how well it may work for you by traditional watering methods, is usually too heavy for wick watering. Also, you must not grow your wick watered plants in too large a pot due to the risk of over-watering. The wicking cord comes in two sizes: thin and heavy. The thin wick is suitable for any size pot simply by increasing the number of pieces used according to the size of the pot. To determine how many pieces of the thin wick to use with a pot measure the mouth of the pot (round down fractions). Subtract 1 from that number. That is how many pieces of thin wick to use. For example, for a 3" pot use 2 pieces of wick. For a 3 1/2" pot, also use 2 pieces. For a 4" pot, use 3 pieces. The heavy wick is the equivalent of three pieces of the thin wick and is therefore good for 4 or 4 1/2" pots, but not for pots smaller than that. Donít expect a wick to work forever. After 6 - 8 months wicks can get clogged with minerals in the water, fertilizer residue, and soil particles and may need replacing. It is also wise to replace the soil at that time. You may be able to get away with once a year, but rarely longer. It is best to put a wick in a pot at the same time that the violet is repotted rather than trying to put one in after the plant is already potted. Make each length of (thin) wick 6 or 8" long. Cut as many lengths as the pot size requires. Pot diameter minus one equals number of lengths of wick. Insert the wick(s) up through one of the drainage holes and hold it up at the top rim of the pot. Put 1/2" of moist Potting Medium in the bottom of the pot and lay the wick(s) down on the soil. Next, pot the plant on top of the wick. Unraveling or fancy placement of the wick(s) on the bottom 1/2" of soil is unnecessary. The wick will bring the water up to thoroughly wet the bottom 1/2" of soil. The soil is so sponge-like that it will distribute the water throughout itself. If you find that the wick just wonít pull water (for example, the wick is in water, but the soil remains dry) check out the following: How old is the wick? They are useful for 6 - 12 months only. Is the soil lightly compacted so as to be in good contact with the wick? Is algae present in the water clogging up the wick? Physan 20 is an algicide that will prevent algae from forming. It can be safely used at each watering. Is the pot sitting on the wick pinching it and restricting the flow of water up into the soil? The wick must pass freely into the water reservoir below. Is the wick crusted with fertilizer salts? After months of constant fertilization the wick can become clogged with fertilizer residue. It is time for fresh soil in a clean pot and for new wick cord.

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